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New York Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Set Aside Settlement Following Stipulation of Dismissal

Under New York law, there are many different types of professional malpractice. For instance, a Syracuse medical malpractice case may assert that a doctor or hospital failed to follow the standard of care for a surgical procedure, or the issue may pertain to an allegedly inaccurate diagnosis or failure to diagnosis.

Cardiologists, chiropractors, dermatologists, and even dentists may find themselves as defendants in professional negligence lawsuits. The burden of proof rests with the plaintiff (the patient or his or her family, if they patient died or was rendered legally incompetent due to the alleged negligence), which means that he or she must be able to provide competent evidence as to the four elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation.

Malpractice cases are often highly technical legal proceedings, requiring a number of expert witnesses and knowledge of the many statutes, case law holdings, and procedural rules applicable to such matters. It is, thus, very important that the plaintiffs in such cases retain an attorney to assist them in their endeavors.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in the Supreme Court of Albany County, the plaintiff was a woman who sought to recover monetary compensation for injuries she suffered due to the negligence of the defendant dentist. The woman’s husband joined in the case as co-plaintiff. The plaintiffs were represented by an attorney who assisted them in commencing their malpractice lawsuit in 2016; the attorney also participated in settlement negotiations regarding the plaintiffs’ claims in 2018. According to the attorney, a settlement was reached, pursuant to which the defendant would pay a total of $150,000. The attorney agreed to reduce his fee, and the plaintiffs were to receive approximately $85,000 in satisfaction of their claims.

The plaintiffs later refused to execute the settlement documents, so the attorney filed a motion to confirm the settlement and to withdraw from the case. Again, settlement negotiations took place, with the result being that an order pertaining to the earlier agreement was signed by the parties and entered by the trial court. Further issues arose between the plaintiffs and their attorney when the defendant’s malpractice insurer sent the settlement check. Ultimately, the trial court vacated the earlier settlement agreement, permitted the male plaintiff to withdraw from the case, and removed the attorney as counsel of record for the remaining plaintiff.

The Appellate Court’s Decision in the Case

The New York Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed the lower court’s ruling insofar as it granted the plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the original settlement agreement. In so holding, the court noted that, prior to the lower court’s ruling granting the motion in question, the attorney had filed a stipulation of discontinuance with the lower court’s clerk. Because this stipulation was filed prior to the plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the earlier settlement, the trial court no longer had the power to exercise supervisory control over the matter. Due to the stipulation of discontinuance, the plaintiffs’ legal action was “as if it had never been” according to the appellate tribunal, thus requiring dismissal of the plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the settlement and for other relief.

To Speak to a Syracuse Attorney About a Malpractice Case

Although a disagreement apparently arose between the plaintiffs and their attorney in the case discussed above, it is critically important that those who seek to recover money damages for an act of dental or medical malpractice be represented by an attorney experienced in such matters throughout such proceedings. Without legal counsel, it is highly likely that the case will be dismissed because of the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the numerous and sometimes highly technical procedural rules concerning malpractice cases in New York. If you have questions for a knowledgeable professional negligence¬†attorney, please contact the attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, at 315-479-9000. We are currently reviewing potential malpractice cases in Syracuse, Rochester, and elsewhere in upstate New York.

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