Does Settlement Bar Legal Malpractice in New York?

Does a client have the right to bring a legal malpractice case against the attorney who forced, recommended, or otherwise allowed the client to knowingly accept in New York?

Generally, New York does not bar claims for legal malpractice arising from a litigation settled by the former client. A client may sue her former attorney after settling a case if the attorney compelled the settlement. In Latimore v. Bergman, (2nd Dep’t 1996), the plaintiffs sued their former counsel for legal malpractice asserting that the defendant had forced a settlement in a previous personal injury action. The court denied the defendant’s motion for dismissal and summary judgment articulating that a settlement in a previous case does not preclude a plaintiff from seeking the full damage amount that would have otherwise flowed from her attorney’s negligence. Latimore v. Bergman, 637 N.Y.S.2d 777 (2nd Dep’t 1996).

See also, Leone v. Silver & Silver, LLP., 880 N.Y.S.2d 676, (2nd Dep’t 2009), where the same Appellate Division ruled a client may sue her former attorney after settlement if the attorney compelled the settlement, and in doing so, failed to protect client interests within reasonable skill and knowledge and that breach of duty caused actual damages. Unless the former attorney-defendant can prove with evidence that the defendant had indeed protected client interests within reasonable skill and knowledge OR that the breath of duty did not cause actual damages, a legal malpractice suit after settlement will survive a motion to dismiss.

Obviously, each case is fact specific, but don’t be deterred from having your case reviewed by a competent legal malpractice attorney in New York.