A New Jersey appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor or an attorney in a legal malpractice case. In Jobar Realty, Co., Inc., v. Tombalakian, a client sued his former attorney for negligently settling a dispute with a tenant that caused environmental damage to a strip mall owned by the client. The client was in the process of selling the mall. In order to close the sale, the client had to deliver to the buyer certain environmental clearance documents for the property.
The client discovered that the property required contamination remediation. He then retained the attorney to pursue a claim against a former tenant who operated a dry cleaning business at the strip mall and contributed to the contamination. The attorney began negotiating with the tenant’s insurer. The client had authorized the attorney to settle for a specified amount, which the insurer ultimately accepted. However, when the attorney forwarded the settlement agreement to the client, he refused to sign.
The attorney advised the client that he was bound by the terms of the agreement and could not renege. However, the client still refused to sign. The attorney then withdrew his representation. The client hired another attorney who filed suit against the tenant. The tenant successfully moved to enforce the settlement agreement. The client then sued the first attorney for legal malpractice alleging that he negligently settled the dispute. The attorney successfully moved for summary judgment and the client appealed.
The appeals court affirmed the ruling, reasoning that the client was unable to prove that the attorney’s conduct caused the client to suffer any damages. The court relied on the facts that the attorneys fees incurred by the client pursuing the litigation were self-imposed and that the attorney had advised the client about the costs of litigation prior to the settlement. Therefore, the attorney’s conduct did not constitute malpractice as a matter of law.
Decision: Jobar Realty, Co., Inc., v. Tombalakian