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NY: Court Says 'Malpractice is Breach of Contract' ?? The Duplicative Cause of Action.

Long v Cellino & Barnes, P.C., 873 N.Y.S.2d 805, 806-07 (App. Div 4th 2009).

NY: Underlying Labor Law and Common-law Negligence Action.

Student Contributor: Le-el D. Sinai

Facts: Plaintiff was an ironworker and fell about 20 feet to the ground from the mezzanine deck of a warehouse while on the job. Defendant attorneys, retained by the plaintiff, failed to commence the action against the correct general contractor and owner of the construction project within the statute of limitations. Plaintiffs sued defendants for malpractice, breach of contract, and fraud. Defendants admitted to their failure to meet the statute of limitations and thus their negligence, but moved for summary judgment with regard to the breach of contract and fraud causes, and were awarded judgment in their favor as the Court viewed these causes as duplicative of the malpractice claim.

Issue: Whether the lower Court erred in deciding for the defendants in dismissing the causes of breach of contract and fraud.

Ruling: The lower Court’s ruling was upheld. The breach of contract cause arose from the same set of facts and alleged the same damages as the malpractice cause of action, to which defendants already admitted liability. With regard to the fraud cause of action, the Court held that defendants met their initial burden of establishing that the plaintiff did not allege fraud “premised upon one or more affirmative, intentional misrepresetnations – that is, something more egregious than mere ‘concealment or failure to disclose [defendants’] own malpractice’… – which would have caused additional damages separate and distinct from those generated by the alleged malpractice.”

Lesson: The Court essentially established that a malpractice can be viewed as a breach of contract. This eliminates the possibility of any plaintiff to sue for both malpractice and breach of contract when both causes arose from the same set of facts and allege the same damages. 

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Posted in: New York