Making A Claim in the Wrong Venue and Legal Malpractice
Plaintiff is injured while at work as a teacher in NYC and goes to an attorney. The attorney advises her to bring a Workers' Compensation Claim, and does so for her. More than 90 days passes, and lo and behold, it turns out that Teachers in NYC are not covered by WC, and are (must) bring a personal injury claim. It's too late for plaintiff. Is this legal malpractice?
Supreme Court did not think so. The Appellate Division, however, did. Gaskin v Harris 2012 NY Slip Op 06123 Decided on September 12, 2012 Appellate Division, Second Department .
"However, the Supreme Court should not have granted that branch of the defendant's cross motion which was to pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (7) to dismiss the cause of action alleging legal malpractice. To recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff is required to show that the defendant attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession, and that the attorney's breach of this duty caused the plaintiff to suffer actual and ascertainable damages (see Dombrowski v Bulson, 19 NY3d 347, 350; Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442; McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 301-302; Gershkovich v Miller, Rosado & Algios, LLP, 96 AD3d 716, 717). When determining a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) for failure to state a cause of action, the court must accept the facts alleged in the pleading as true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every possible [*2]inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d 314, 326; Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87; Marom v Anselmo, 90 AD3d 622, 623), and "may freely consider affidavits submitted by the plaintiff to remedy any defects in the complaint" (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 88; see Berman v Christ Apostolic Church Intl. Miracle Ctr., Inc., 87 AD3d 1094, 1096-1097; Kopelowitz & Co., Inc. v Mann, 83 AD3d 793, 797). Further, a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) may be granted "only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes plaintiff's factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law" (Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d at 326; see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 88; Robertson v Wells, 95 AD3d 862, 863; Magnus v Sklover, 95 AD3d 837, 837).
Applying these principles here, the complaint, as amplified by the affidavits submitted by the plaintiff, adequately states a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant negligently advised her to seek Workers' Compensation benefits for injuries sustained in the course of her employment as a substitute teacher, when he should have known, as an attorney specializing in this area, that New York City teachers and substitute teachers are not covered by the Workers' Compensation Law. She further claims that the defendant advised her to pursue a baseless Workers' Compensation claim instead of litigation, failed to advise her of the deadline for filing a notice of claim, and counseled her against accepting a mediator's recommended settlement that would have afforded her some compensation for her injuries. Although the documentary evidence submitted by the defendant establishes that he promptly filed a Workers' Compensation claim on the plaintiff's behalf, and that the claim was denied on the ground that New York City teachers, including substitute teachers, are not covered by the Workers' Compensation Law, this evidence does not conclusively establish a defense to the plaintiff's asserted malpractice claims. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have denied that branch of the defendant's cross motion which was to pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (7) to dismiss the cause of action alleging legal malpractice (see Magnus v Sklover, 95 AD3d at 837; Ofman v Katz, 89 AD3d 909, 910; Thompsen v Baier, 84 AD3d 1062, 1063). "