Attorney's Admission of Liability In Apologetic Letter To Client Found Binding On Negligence & Causation
On May 21, 2019 a New York appellate court agreed that when an attorney admits in a letter to the client that he blew the statute of limitations on a property damage claim--you can't take it back with creative defenses. The defendant attorney was retained to prosecute a claim for property damage (between $8,000 and $185,000) to a garage door struck by a car that left the scene of the accident. Unfortunately for the driver of the offending vehicle, a license plate was found by the police lodged in the garage door and the owner was identified. The attorney filed a claim for property damage with Allstate (car owners insurer) and allowed the claim to sit for twelve (12) years. The six year statute of limitations for property damage claims expired without a lawsuit being filed. The plaintiff/client claimed the attorney fraudulently and repeatedly reassured him over the years that the claim was in suit when in fact it was not.
After the client learned that his property damage claim was lost, the attorney wrote a letter of apology and stated that he would "willingly compensate [him] for all actual damages subject to proof and interest since the time of the loss." In opposing the client's motion for summary judgment based on the letter of apology, the attorney raised several defenses: 1) the client never submitted acceptable proof of damages which was the cause of the 12 year delay; 2) there was no evidence the owner of the vehicle was operating it at the time of the accident; 3) the car may have been stolen; 4) the license plate could have been stolen and planted in the garage door; and, (the best one yet) - 5) the driver of the vehicle may have been confronted with an emergency situation. Both the trial court and appellate court swept away all these defenses holding that the attorney had admitted to negligence and conceded that his negligence was the proximate cause of the loss, leaving only the issue of the amount of damages for a jury to decide. Ortiz v Joel J. Turney, LLC 2019 WL 2179258