LAW FIRM’S SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED, CRITERIA FOR LEGAL MALPRACTICE WHERE AN ACTION HAS BEEN SETTLED EXPLAINED.
The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined defendant’s counterclaim alleging legal malpractice in a divorce proceeding which was settled should have been dismissed. The court explained the malpractice criteria in an action which was settled:
Defendant contends, inter alia, that but for plaintiff’s alleged negligence she would have received a more favorable result had she proceeded to trial. Generally, “to recover damages for legal malpractice, a [client] must prove (1) that the [law firm] failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed by a member of the legal community, (2) proximate cause, (3) damages, and (4) that the [client] would have been successful in the underlying action had the [law firm] exercised due care” … . In a legal malpractice action in which there was no settlement of the underlying action, it is well settled that, “[t]o obtain summary judgment dismissing [the] complaint . . . , a [law firm] must demonstrate that the [client] is unable to prove at least one of the essential elements of its legal malpractice cause of action” … . A settlement of the underlying action does not, per se, preclude a legal malpractice action … . Where, as here, however, the underlying action has been settled, the focus becomes whether “settlement of the action was effectively compelled by the mistakes of counsel” … . Where the law firm meets its burden under this test, the client must then provide proof raising triable issues of fact whether the settlement was compelled by mistakes of counsel, and “[m]ere speculation about a loss resulting from an attorney’s [alleged] poor performance is insufficient” … . Conclusory allegations that merely reflect a subsequent dissatisfaction with the settlement, or that the client would be in a better position but for the settlement, without more, do not make out a claim of legal malpractice … . Chamberlain, D’Amanda, Oppenheimer & Greenfield, LLP v Wilson, 2016 NY Slip Op 00841, 4th Dept 2-5-16
ATTORNEYS (LEGAL MALPRACTICE, CRITERIA WHERE UNDERLYING ACTION IS SETTLED EXPLAINED)/LEGAL MALPRACTICE (CRITERIA WHERE UNDERLYING ACTION IS SETTLED EXPLAINED)/NEGLIGENCE (LEGAL MALPRACTICE, CRITERIA WHERE UNDERLYING ACTION IS SETTLED EXPLAINED)