Plaintiff is a doctor who was sued in medical malpractice for an Erbs palsy case. He settled, and then turned to sue his attorney alleging that the attorney forced him to settle, failed to use photographs of the birth which woul have exonorated him, and allowing the doctor to be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
The NJ Supreme Court reversed a summary judgment decision against the doctor, and the case continues in part:
Steinberg’s remaining claims for damage to his reputation and for legal fees and costs resulting from the alleged legal malpractice should not have been summarily dismissed. Damage to reputation does not require proof of economic loss. Under the law of libel, damages are divided into three categories:
(1) Punitive or exemplary damages, where actual malice or recklessness is shown; (2) special damages, such as loss of business, which are recoverable only upon proof of loss of specific economic benefits; and (3) general damages which the law presumes to follow inevitably from a defamatory publication and which, therefore, are often recoverable without proof of injury.
[Bock v. Plainfield Courier-News, 45 N.J. Super. 302, 309 (App. Div. 1957).]
Where legal malpractice is alleged to have proximately resulted in damage to the client’s reputation, as here, we see no reason to impose a more stringent proof requirement than is imposed by the law of libel. Thus, a client whose reputation has been damaged as a result of legal malpractice may recover general, or nominal, damages in the absence of "proof of loss of specific economic benefits." Ibid.
With respect to the legal fees and costs incurred in prosecuting the legal malpractice action, the Supreme Court in Saffer v. Willoughby, 143 N.J. 256, 272 (1996), held that "a negligent attorney is responsible for the reasonable legal expenses and attorney fees incurred by a former client in prosecuting a legal malpractice action." We have held that neither R. 4:42-9(a) nor the "American Rule" preclude such an award in a legal malpractice action. Bailey v. Pocaro & Pocaro, 305 N.J. Super. 1, 6 (App. Div. 1997). Accordingly, the motion judge erred in dismissing the legal malpractice action in its entirety.