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NY: Motions for Summary Judgment by Defense Creates a Question of Fact

Phillips v. Moran & Kufta, P.C., 53 A.D.3d 1044, 862 N.Y.S.2d 875 (2008)

NY: Underlying personal injury claim against municipality

Student Contributor: Michael Park

Facts: The plaintiff retained attorney in an underlying personal injury claim which occurred on municipal property. Attorney failed to commence an action against the municipality and also failed to make an application for leave to serve a late notice of claim against the municipality. Attorney made a motion for summary judgment and the trial court denied it. The attorney then appealed.

Issue: Was the motion for summary judgment properly denied?

Ruling: Yes. In affirming the decision by the Supreme Court, Monroe County, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department held for the plaintiff for the following reasons:
1) The Court relied on the decision in Ippolito v. McCormack, Damiani, Lowe & Mellon, 265 A.D.2d 303, 696 N.Y.S.2d 203 and ruled that it is the burden of the defendant in bringing the motion for summary judgment to show that the plaintiff is unable to prove at least one of the elements of their legal malpractice claim, of which elements are:
1. the defendant attorney failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed by a member of the legal community
2. proximate cause
3. damages
4. the plaintiff would have been successful in the underlying action had the attorney exercised due care

2) Defendant failed to meet their burden and actually raised a triable issue of fact on “whether discretionary leave to file a late notice of claim…would have been available”.

Lesson: The defendant in a legal malpractice case needn’t disprove every element of the plaintiff’s case. Rather, they just need to establish that at least one of the elements cannot be proven by the plaintiff. In creating a triable issue of fact, the defendant actually helped the plaintiff by showing that a trial would be required to see if the plaintiff could have been successful in the underlying action.

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Posted in: New York, Torts/Personal Injury