October 17, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney in Malpractice Case Must Raise Collectibility as Affirmative Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gallegos v. LeHouillier on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

Legal MalpracticeBurden of ProofCollectabilityAffirmative Defense.

Plaintiff Gallegos sued defendants LeHouillier, an attorney, and his law firm, LeHouillier & Associates, P.C. (collectively, LeHouillier), for legal malpractice. The jury found that LeHouillier had negligently breached his duty of professional care when handling an underlying medical malpractice case for Gallegos. The trial court placed the burden on Gallegos to prove that any judgment in the underlying case was collectable, and it ruled that Gallegos had provided sufficient evidence to prove that point, entering judgment in her favor.

On appeal, LeHouillier contended that the judgment must be reversed because collectibility is an element that a plaintiff must prove in a legal malpractice case, and Gallegos did not prove that any judgment that she would have received in the underlying malpractice case would have been collectible. Gallegos countered that the issue of collectibility is an affirmative defense and the court should have required LeHouillier to prove that the judgment was not collectible. The Court of Appeals determined that the record did not contain sufficient evidence that the judgment was collectible. In addition, the trial court erred when it placed the burden on Gallegos to prove that any judgment in the underlying medical malpractice case would have been collectible; it should have required LeHouillier (1) to raise the question of collectibility as an affirmative defense and (2) to prove that any judgment Gallegos would have received would not have been collectible.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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