Two Law Firms and Their Attorneys Fight Over Who's More Responsible

In Balkheimer v Spanton   2013 NY Slip Op 00715   Decided on February 6, 2013   Appellate Division, Second Department   we see two law firms, and their stellar legal malpractice defense attorneys fighting over who is more responsible to plaintiff.  In a situation such as this, we see the unusual (but not unprecedented) comedy of legal malpractice insurance defense attorneys pointing the finger and claiming legal malpractice was committed.
 

In any event, the lesson to be learned from this case is that after a release there are no more contribution claims, and indemnity claims depend on a separate duty owed by the indemintor to the indemnitee, not based upon duties from the indemnitor to the injured party.

"Pursuant to General Obligations Law § 15-108(b), "[a] release given in good faith by the injured person to one tortfeasor as provided in [General Obligations Law § 15-108(a)] relieves him [or her] from liability to any other person for contribution as provided in article fourteen of the civil practice law and rules." Here, the plaintiffs executed a general release in favor of the third-party defendants. There is no indication in the record that the release was not executed in good faith. Therefore, pursuant to General Obligations Law § 15-108(b), the third-party defendants are relieved from liability to the third-party plaintiffs for contribution (see Ziviello v O'Boyle, 90 AD3d 916, 917; Kagan v Jacobs, 260 AD2d 442). Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted that branch of the motion of the third-party defendants which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) to dismiss the contribution cause of action in the third-party complaint as barred by the release.

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), the court must "accept the facts as alleged in the [pleading] as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88). "[T]he key element of a common-law cause of action for indemnification is not a duty running from the indemnitor to the injured party, but rather is a separate duty owed the indemnitee by the [*2]indemnitor'" (Raquet v Braun, 90 NY2d 177, 183, quoting Mas v Two Bridges Assocs., 75 NY2d 680, 690; see Lovino, Inc. v Lavallee Law Offs., 96 AD3d 909, 909-910). "

 

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