The First Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined plaintiff raised a question of fact about whether the releases were signed by plaintiff because of fraud, duress and/or mutual mistake. The facts are not described. Apparently plaintiff was injured at work and he alleged that he believed he would lose his job if he didn’t sign the releases:
“A release, even though properly executed, may nonetheless be void. Where fraud or duress in the procurement of a release is alleged, a motion to dismiss should be denied” … . Specifically, plaintiff alleged that Selina Maddock, a lawyer, was sent by their employer Navillus to secure plaintiff’s signature on the release, before he retained counsel, and made both the promise that he would have a job if he signed the releases, and the implicit threat that he would not have a job in the future if he failed to sign. He further alleged that Maddock advised plaintiff that he did not need to consult counsel and misrepresented to plaintiff that he was only releasing claims against his employer, Navillus. Consistent with this, plaintiff testified that he did not understand that he was releasing anyone besides his employer. Furthermore, “a mistaken belief as to the nonexistence of presently existing injury is a prerequisite to avoidance of a release”; here, while defendants argue that plaintiff is merely mistaken as to the sequelae of a known injury, plaintiff raises a factual issue as to whether the additional injuries he claims to suffer from were a sequelae of his right knee injury. Forcing a Hobbesian choice on injured workers to accept a small settlement or else lose their job before they can ascertain the nature and scope of their injury is contrary to the strong public policy of New York state to protect injured workers, as reflected in the Labor Law…. . Dolcimascolo v 701 7th Prop. Owner, LLC, 2022 NY Slip Op 02944, First Dept 5-3-22
Practice Point: Plaintiff was apparently injured at work. A lawyer for his employer approached him about signing releases. Plaintiff signed, allegedly because he believed he would lose his job if he didn’t. Therefore there was a question of fact about whether fraud, duress or mutual mistake invalidated the releases.