An El Paso County jury on Tuesday slammed a longtime Colorado Springs civil attorney with a $1.2 million judgment for negligence, after a former client sued him, arguing he bungled her medical malpractice claim and tried to cover it up.
According to attorneys for Della Gallegos, Patric J. LeHouillier offered changing stories for why he failed to file suit within the statute of limitations, costing her the ability to pursue a claim against the radiologist who she says overlooked her benign brain tumor.
Had the tumor been caught during initial testing, it could have been removed with a low-impact procedure that has a success rate of greater than 95%, her attorney alleged.
Instead, the tumor grew until it required a series of three risky brain surgeries, which zapped Gallegos’ short-term memory and left her partially blind and deaf and unable to work, said plaintiff's attorney Chad Hemmat of Denver.
Evidence at trial showed that LeHouillier repeatedly “lied” to cover up his mistake, hoping to pin the blame on his brain-injured client, Hemmat said.
“They basically just didn’t calendar this thing properly and forgot about it. And then they decided, ‘Well, we’ll just rely on the fact that Della has memory problems,’” Hemmat said.
LeHouillier’s attorney, John Bollmer II, denied a cover-up by his client, and disputed Hemmat’s claim that the jury’s verdict means they concluded that LeHouillier was purposefully dishonest.
“I disagree with that comment, and think that the jury was able to conclude simple negligence,” Bollmer said.
LeHouillier, a 42-year lawyer, operated his own practice when he represented Gallegos. He now works for Franklin D. Azar and Associates, the Aurora-based personal injury lawyer known for his round-the-clock television advertising. LeHouillier did not return a message seeking comment.
Hemmat said that LeHouillier falsely claimed that he dropped Gallegos as a client in 2010 before the statute of limitations expired in December 2011, even though his own case file had been updated with fresh work nearly a year after he said he quit the case.
According to Hemmat, LeHouillier testified that his paralegal was present when he notified Gallegos he was severing their relationship. LeHouillier claimed that he didn’t write a letter memorializing the meeting because he “never” writes such letters, Hemmat said.
“The paralegal says, ‘In the nine years I worked with him, he disengaged plenty of clients, and he always immediately wrote a full-blown letter, including any upcoming statute of limitations there may be.”
The paralegal also denied being present at any meeting where any client was let go, Hemmat said.
The jury verdict came Tuesday after a six-day retrial in 4th Judicial District Court, marking a second victory in the case.
Gallegos initially won a negligence judgment against LeHouillier in 2014, but it was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. The state’s high court found that Gallegos had to prove not only that LeHouillier was negligent, but that she would have had the ability to collect from the radiologist who missed her tumor during a test.
The radiologist, Dr. Steven Hughes of Colorado Springs, testified in a deposition that he had a $1 million malpractice policy, and was a partner in a well-established medical practice, satisfying the Supreme Court’s concerns.
LeHouillier’s malpractice insurance was limited to $100,000, Hemmat said, placing his personal assets at risk.
If Hemmat proves in court that Gallegos’ injuries are severe enough to warrant the more-than-$1 million judgment, then compound interest will apply, ballooning the judgment to roughly $3 million.
Should LeHouillier appeal, he would be forced to put up an appeal bond of up to $4 million, or be subject to collections measures including garnishing of his income and levying of his personal property, Hemmat said.
Bollmer said he intends to file a series of motions that could lower the judgment against LeHouillier.
Any decision on a potential appeal will come after Judge David A. Prince rules on those motions, he said.