Two threshold issues in legal malpractice, which are not mirrored in other areas of the law are standing and privity.  While intertwined, they are not merely two names for the same thing.  Illustrated by Matter of Benson  2019 NY Slip Op 51331(U)   Decided on August 12, 2019
Surrogate’s Court, Albany County Pettit, J. only certain individuals may sue an attorney for legal malpractice.  In estate (death) settings the privity problem is this:  decedent hired the attorney to do estate planning.  Decedent is dead.  No one else has privity to sue the attorney for negligent estate planning.  Estate of Schneider v. Finmann dealt with this issue.  Here is a further refinement.

“Before this Court is a motion by respondent Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C. (hereinafter respondent), pursuant to CPLR 1003 for an order dropping Robert Thomas Benson (hereinafter Benson) as a party to the trial of this proceeding and precluding him from participating as a party on the ground that he lacks privity to maintain a cause of action against respondent. Benson has opposed the motion and it is now submitted for decision.”:

“Even if respondent had not waived the argument that Benson lacks standing, the Court would not be persuaded. While it is generally true that “a third party, without privity, cannot maintain a claim against an attorney in professional negligence, ‘absent fraud, collusion, malicious acts or other special circumstances'” (Estate of Schneider v Finmann, 15 NY3d 306, 308-309 [2010], quoting Estate of Spivey v Pulley, 138 AD2d 563, 564 [2d Dept 1988]), the Court of Appeals recognized that such a rule “leaves [a decedent’s] estate with no recourse against an attorney who planned the estate negligently” and whose negligent actions or inactions affected the estate (Estate of Schneider v Finmann, 15 NY3d at 309). Accordingly, the Court established an exception to the rule for personal representatives of an estate, finding that such persons have privity, or a relationship sufficiently approaching privity, with the estate planning attorney (see id.). The Court reaffirmed that “strict privity remains a bar against beneficiaries’ and other third-party individuals’ estate planning malpractice claims absent fraud or other circumstances.” (id. at 310). Here, Benson is participating in this proceeding as a court-appointed fiduciary, and not as a beneficiary of the estate.

This Court finds that Benson, in his role as a co-administrator of the estate, has a relationship sufficiently approaching privity with respondent, counsel for the initial estate administrator, to maintain a claim against respondent for professional malpractice it may have committed with respect to the administration of this estate (cf. Estate of Schneider v Finmann, 15 NY3d at 209). Any remaining contentions, to the extent not specifically addressed, have been considered and determined to lack merit. “

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

 

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.