Account Stated in a Legal Malpractice Setting

The Third Department gives a nice analysis of the law of "account stated" in its decision, Antokol & Coffin v Myers ;2011 NY Slip Op 06051 ;Appellate Division, Third Department .
 

""'An account stated is an agreement between parties to an account based upon prior transactions between them with respect to the correctness of the account items and balance due'" (J.B.H., Inc. v Godinez, 34 AD3d 873, 874 [2006], quoting Jim-Mar Corp. v Aquatic Constr., 195 AD2d 868, 869 [1993], lv denied 82 NY2d 660 [1993]). An attorney can recover fees on an account stated "with proof that a bill . . . was issued to a client and held by the client without objection for an unreasonable period of time" (O'Connell & Aronowitz v Gullo, 229 AD2d 637, 638 [1996], lv denied 89 NY2d 803 [1996]).

At trial, plaintiff introduced evidence of a retainer agreement between Antokol and defendant as well as unpaid invoices for legal fees dated between September 1995 and December 1996. Antokol testified that these invoices were ordinarily sent to defendant on a monthly basis and that defendant did not object to the bills until plaintiff commenced this action. Defendant testified that she did not remember receiving monthly bills but, in her prior deposition testimony, acknowledged that she thought she had received a bill most months. Although defendant claimed to have had "constant conversations about the bills" with Antokol, and Antokol admitted that he made efforts to get her to pay, including offering a 10% discount in February 1996, he testified that defendant never offered a reason for her refusal to pay the bills. Indeed, with the exception of one specific objection to work completed by one of Antokol's colleagues, which defendant ultimately agreed to pay, defendant did not claim to have made objections to any specific bill, despite the language at the end of each bill stating, "The above information will be deemed correct unless objection is made within 30 days." Further, defendant admittedly made no written objections to the bills. Under these circumstances, we agree with Supreme Court that defendant's general claims of verbal refusals to pay did not constitute a specific objection sufficient to defeat plaintiff's cause of action for an account stated (see Darby & Darby v VSI Intl., 95 NY2d 308, 315 [2000]; J.B.H., Inc. v Godinez, 34 AD3d at 875-876; PPG Indus. v A.G.P. Sys., 235 AD2d 979, 980 [1997]; see also Zanani v Schvimmer, 50 AD3d 445, 446 [2008]). "

"Turning to the adequacy of the services billed for, we agree with Supreme Court that the record demonstrates that plaintiff provided competent representation in a difficult matrimonial matter. Antokol's failure to establish grounds for divorce in defendant's favor, albeit clearly a point of frustration for defendant, was irrelevant, as fault did not affect the equitable distribution of marital assets (see Howard S. v Lillian S., 14 NY3d 431, 435-436 [2010]). Defendant's assertions that Antokol should have presented expert testimony to increase her share of the marital estate and that he was not prepared for trial are counterbalanced by record evidence that Antokol's decisions were part of his trial strategy and his claims that defendant's refusal to follow his advice at times interfered with his ability to achieve better results for her. In sum, the record evidence fully supports Supreme Court's finding that the alleged inadequacies of Antokol's representation are insufficient to undermine plaintiff's right to be paid for its services (see Matter of Wapner, Koplovitz & Futerfas v Solomon, 7 AD3d at 916). "
 

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