One of the persistent and more difficult challenges in legal malpractice cases is proving that the client would have won the underlying case but for the negligence of the lawyer. This is known as but/for causation or proximate causation. In this case the plaintiff was a superintendent of a school district. She was terminated from that position. She sued her lawyer for legal malpractice. She was unable to state a claim because she could not establish that the lawyer’s legal work was the cause of the termination. The court explains:
Here, even if the defendant had been negligent in his representation of the plaintiff in connection with the underlying matters, viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 87-88), it failed to plead specific factual allegations demonstrating that, but for the defendant’s alleged negligence, there would have been a more favorable outcome in the underlying matters or that the plaintiff would not have incurred any damages (see York v Frank, 209 AD3d 804, 807; Katsoris v Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 AD3d at 1506; Benishai v Epstein, 116 AD3d 726, 728). The plaintiff’s general contentions that but for the defendant’s negligence, she “would have litigated her claims against the Board, or in the alternative, procured a settlement agreement with better terms of compensation and otherwise far more beneficial” are speculative and, as such, cannot serve as a basis for a legal malpractice claim (see Jean-Paul v Rosenblatt,208 AD3d at 653; Katsoris v Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 AD3d at 1506).
Williams v. Silverstone, 2023 NY Slip Op 1917, New York Appellate Division, 2nd Department (2023).