Attorneys' Fee Clauses are Engraved Invitations to Sue

Pencil resting on fee statement

Take a critical look at whether your contracts include a prevailing party attorneys' fees clause. If so, should you leave it in there?

April 19, 2021
David M. McLain – Colorado Construction Litigation

As we start another trip around the sun, hopefully you are in the process of updating your form contracts, including purchase and sale agreements and express written warranties. Because the law and litigation landscape continually changes, it is a good practice to periodically update the forms you use in order to give yourself a fighting chance if and when the plaintiffs' attorneys come knocking on your door. As you engage in this process, I hope that you will take a critical look at whether your contracts include a prevailing party attorneys' fees clause and, if so, whether you should leave it in there.

In Colorado, parties are entitled to recover attorneys' fees only if provided for by statute or by contract. Historically, plaintiffs' attorneys relied on two statutes, the Colorado Consumer Protection Act and Colorado's Statutory Interest statute, to recover attorneys’ fees in construction defect cases. In 2003, the Colorado legislature capped treble damages and attorneys' fees under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act at $250,000, effectively restricting plaintiffs' attorneys from relying on the CCPA to recoup their attorneys' fees, especially in large cases. In 2008, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its decision in Goodyear v. Holmes, stating that plaintiffs can only claim prejudgment interest under Colorado's Statutory Interest statute, in cases where they have already spent money on repairs, not when they are suing for an estimate of what repairs will cost in the future. Without either the CCPA or the prejudgment interest statute to recover attorneys' fees, plaintiffs' attorneys most often now rely on the prevailing party attorney fee clause in contracts between the owner and builder, or in the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions in situations where a claim is prosecuted by an HOA.

Mr. McLain may be contacted at mclain@hhmrlaw.com



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