Death, Estates and Legal Malpractice
Overturning a jury verdict is difficult. Doing so in a legal malpractice case is hard. Doing so, when the facts seem to be against you is even harder. Cinao v Reers 2013 NY Slip Op 05791
Decided on September 11, 2013 Appellate Division, Second Department shows that legal malpractice plaintiffs have to be almost wholly blameless if they wish to succeed.
"Here, the evidence supports the jury's finding that the defendant did not "depart[ ] from the exercise of that degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed and exercised by a member of the legal community" (Edwards v Haas, Greenstein, Samson, Cohen & Gerstein, P.C., [*2]17 AD3d 517, 519). The jury properly credited evidence which established, among other things, that the defendant marshaled the trust assets, communicated with the attorneys representing the plaintiff's brother in an attempt to settle the brothers' dispute over the trust, advised the plaintiff to retain local counsel in Hawaii, and successfully sought to adjourn the proceedings several times to give the plaintiff sufficient opportunity to retain local counsel. The plaintiff admitted that he made no attempt to retain local counsel to oppose his brother's petition to remove him as sole trustee. In addition, it is undisputed that when the plaintiff retained the defendant in April 2000, the plaintiff had already breached the terms of the trust which required him to distribute $158,000 to his brother within six months of their mother's death, and that prior to retaining the defendant, the plaintiff, as the sole trustee, had not taken any steps to administer the trust. Thus, the jury properly concluded that the plaintiff's inaction as sole trustee led to the untimely distributions, as well as his removal as sole trustee, and that the defendant did not depart from the exercise of that degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed and exercised by a member of the legal community in attempting to resolve the brothers' dispute and administer the trust. Accordingly, contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the verdict was supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence (see Lolik v Big V Supermarkets, 86 NY2d at 746). "