The Doctrine of Election of Remedies in Utah
One procedural issue parties occasionally face in civil litigation is the requirement to make an election of remedies. In its most basic terms, the election of remedies doctrine prevents double redress for a single wrong and avoids legally or factually inconsistent recoveries for the same wrong. There may be a claim alleged in your case that could lead to multiple, inconsistent remedies, and if so the party making that claim will need to make an election of remedies. One Utah case described it this way: “If a defendant wrongfully retains possession of a plaintiff’s cow, for example, the plaintiff may not recover both the cow and the reasonable value of the cow. The plaintiff must elect one of these two remedies.”
This issue often arises in business and commercial litigation where a plaintiff claims there was mutual mistake or some form of misrepresentation when a contract was entered. If so, the plaintiff may pursue the remedy of damages for breach of contract or may seek rescission of the contract. But ultimately, the plaintiff cannot be awarded both of these remedies.
One important question is when the election must be made. Utah’s modern pleading rules permit litigants to plead inconsistent theories of recovery in the alternative. Contrary to the harsh rule in older case law, current Utah law permits a party to pursue inconsistent remedies until the fact-finder and the judge have resolved all factual and legal disputes related to the inconsistent theories of liability. Thus, an election of remedies is not binding until one remedy is pursued to a determinative conclusion.
If your case involves a claim that supports multiple, inconsistent remedies, it is important to identify those potential remedies early on, evaluate the merits of all available remedies, and be mindful of the need, ultimately, to make an election between them.
Matthew Barneck is a shareholder at the Salt Lake City law firm of Richards Brandt Miller Nelson. He can be reached at Matthew-Barneck@rbmn.com, 801-531-2000.