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Privity in NY: Alive and Well (with Certain Exceptions)

Nelson v. Kalathara, 48 A.D.3d 528, 853 N.Y.S.2d 89 (2008)

NY: Underlying litigation, privity. 

Student Contributor: Michael Park

An incapacitated person had a guardian assigned to them and their property. The plaintiff, who happened to be the previous guardian’s brother, eventually replaced the guardian. However, the previous guardian entered into a contract to sell property belonging to the incapacitated person and retained an attorney to represent him. The purchaser also retained an attorney and the sale went through successfully. However, the plaintiff discovered the sale and brought an action against the purchaser’s attorney alleging that he committed legal malpractice in handling the real estate sale. The purchaser’s attorney then made a motion to dismiss for lack of privity, which was denied by the trial court. The attorney then appealed.

Issue: Did the trial court properly rule that privity was not required between the purchaser’s attorney and the plaintiff in the legal malpractice action?

Ruling: No. In reversing the ruling of the Supreme Court, Westchester County, the Appellate Division, Second Department held that the purchaser’s attorney’s motion was improperly denied for the following reason:

There is an exception to the privity rule required in legal malpractice actions. This exception states that if an attorney’s behavior could be categorized as fraud, collusion, malicious acts, or other special circumstances, then no privity is required or simply a showing of near-privity is all that is required to link the attorney to the damaged party.

Lesson: A third party to an attorney’s alleged legal malpractice does not need to establish privity if it can be established that the attorney’s conduct constituted fraud, collusion, malicious acts, or other special circumstances. In the absence of those conditions, the third party must establish privity with the attorney to be able to bring a legal malpractice claim.

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Posted in: New York, Privity