Lawyer who tried to do his job but failed? Fine: $10,000June 18, 2012

Aloi v. Ellis, 2012 NY Slip Op 04864 (4th Dept. 2012)

More craziness from the Court that is headquartered in Rochester.  Well, perhaps some sanity.

“In this personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident, defendants appeal from an order that imposed a $10,000 sanction against the law firm of the attorney who represented defendants at a bifurcated trial on liability. According to Supreme Court, defendants’ attorney engaged in frivolous conduct within the meaning of 22 NYCRR 130-1.1 by failing to concede liability at trial and by pursuing a meritless affirmative defense of comparative negligence. As a preliminary matter, we note that, although defendants’ notice of appeal recites that defendants are appealing from the order, they in fact are not aggrieved by the imposition of sanctions against their attorney’s law firm (see Moore v Federated Dept. Stores, Inc., 94 AD3d 638, 639). Nevertheless, the notice of appeal may be deemed to have been filed on behalf of the nonparty law firm (see CPLR 2001; Matter of Tagliaferri v Weiler, 1 NY3d 605, 606; Joan 2000, Ltd. v Deco Constr. Corp., 66 AD3d 841, 842).

Oh so what did this firm do that was so wrong?

“With respect to the merits, we conclude that the court abused its discretion in imposing sanctions against the law firm of defendants’ attorney. Although the circumstances of the accident established that defendant Arlee Ellis was the more culpable party, “there can be more than one proximate cause of an accident, and . . . the fact that [a driver] failed to stop at [a] stop sign is not dispositive of the issue [of the comparative negligence of the other driver]” (Deshaies v Prudential Rochester Realty, 302 AD2d 999, 1000; see Cox v Nunez, 23 AD3d 427, 427). Even where, as here, a driver negligently fails to yield the right-of-way, an oncoming driver may [*2]be guilty of some degree of comparative negligence where, e.g., he or she had time to take evasive action but failed to do so (see e.g. Dorr v Farnham, 57 AD3d 1404, 1405-1406; Cooley v Urban, 1 AD3d 900, 901).”

Procedrually though, this case is interesting for another reason.  A law firm that is sanctioned for “frivilous conduct” must appeals a non-party.

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