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NY: No Liability for Predecessor Counsel

Katz v. Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C., 853 N.Y.S.2d 104 (2 Dept. 2008)

NY Underlying Personal Injury Action

Student Contributor:  Jason Klein

Facts: Plaintiffs retained Defendant attorneys as counsel for a personal injury action which was eventually settled. Subsequently, Plaintiffs commenced an action for legal malpractice alleging that Defendants refused to pursue a claim for loss of income, and as a result, Plaintiffs were forced to settle their personal injury action for an amount far below what they could have recovered. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing that because Plaintiffs dismissed Defendants and hired new counsel five months prior to settling, the Defendants’ actions did not proximately cause the alleged damages. The trial court granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss and Plaintiffs appealed

Issue: Did the trial court properly grant Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss in light of Plaintiff’s decision to terminate their representation five months in advance of the settlement of which they now complained?

Ruling: Yes. Successor counsel had been retained in a timely fashion and had every opportunity to protect the Plaintiff’s rights in advance of the time of their decision to enter into a settlement.

Lesson: Plaintiffs had sufficient time in which to pursue its claims with successor counsel, and therefore, could not establish that any alleged damages resulting from their decision to settle were proximately caused by the acts or omissions of their former counsel.

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Posted in: New York, Proximate Cause, Torts/Personal Injury