Articles Posted in Judgment Call Defense

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The opinion in Lloyd’s Syndicate 2987 v. Furman, Kornfeld & Brennan, LLP, 2020 NY Slip Op 02365 is pithy but worth considering.  Apparently the law firm advised an insurance company that it could deny coverage to a policyholder. That decision proved to be in error and the insurance company sued the law firm. Result: case dismissed.

The pertinent part of this pithy opinion is quoted here:

In this legal malpractice action, plaintiffs allege that they sustained damages when they relied on defendants’ negligent advice that they could disclaim coverage of their insured in an underlying malpractice action. In support of their motion to dismiss, defendants properly relied on documentary evidence, including the challenged disclaimer letter and the relevant policy, since their authenticity is undisputed and their contents are “essentially undeniable” (see DSA Realty Servs., LLC v Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Inc. Servs. of N.Y., Inc., 128 AD3d 587 [1st Dept 2015]; see also Kaplan v Conway & Conway, 173 AD3d 452, 453 [1st Dept 2019]; CPLR 3211[a][1]). The disclaimer letter sets forth an analysis of plaintiffs’ right to refuse coverage to their insured on two independent bases. Plaintiffs’ failure to allege with specificity or argue that one of the two bases for defendants’ advice was incorrect, requires dismissal of this legal malpractice action.

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One defense in a legal malpractice case is that the lawyer exercised judgment (usually at trial) and, therefore, he should not be liable for legal malpractice.

One way to explain this is to make an analogy to the role of a baseball manager. In my example, the manager’s team is leading 5-4 and there are two outs and two runners on base. The manager elects to intentionally walk the other team’s clean up hitter, Jones. He elects to have his pitcher pitch to the next hitter in the line up. Unfortunately, that hitter hits a home run (a grand slam) and four runs cross the plate. The angry fan (or newspaper columnist) says “He should not have intentionally walked Jones to pitch to Brown. If he had only done that, we would have won the game.” This is a classic case of a judgment call gone wrong. The manager made a decision after carefully weighing the odds and it turned out poorly. That is not baseball malpractice and it isn’t legal malpractice either if the lawyer elects not to call the criminal defendant to the stand or elects not to call an expert witness who will only support the State’s theory of the evidence. The key inquiry is whether or not the lawyer actually weighed the possible outcomes before he made his decision. In other words, was it a judgment call, or just a blunder?

In Schaeffer v. Thompson, No. 2180834 (Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama, February 20, 2020), the plaintiff claimed that the lawyer committed malpractice in the underlying case. Plaintiff obtained testimony by an expert witness that the lawyer’s work did not meet the standard of care.

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