February 20, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: When Liability Based on Respondeat Superior, Settlement with Agent is Setoff Against Jury Verdict for Principal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Marso v. Homeowners Realty on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Respondeat Superior—Agent—Amendment of Answer—Affirmative Defense—Setoff—Settlement—Statutory Prejudgment Interest.

Dilbeck was employed by or associated with Homeowners Realty, Inc., d/b/a/ Coldwell Banker Home Owners Realty, Inc. (Coldwell) and acted as the Marsos’ agent in their purchase of a house. Two years after the purchase, the Marsos discovered that uranium tailings had been used as fill material, creating a potential health hazard. The Marsos filed a complaint against Dilbeck and Coldwell alleging negligence against Dilbeck and respondeat superior liability against Coldwell. Before the scheduled trial date, the Marsos settled with Dilbeck for $150,000, inclusive of interest. The jury was instructed to determine the total amount of damages sustained by the Marsos and was not informed of the amount of the settlement with Dilbeck. The jury returned a verdict of $120,000 against Coldwell. In post-trial proceedings, the trial court set off the settlement payment of $150,000 against the $120,000 jury verdict, resulting in a zero recovery for the Marsos. Because the settlement payment exceeded the jury verdict, the court entered judgment in favor of Coldwell and later entered a cost award against the Marsos of approximately $30,000.

On appeal, the Marsos contended that the court abused its discretion in allowing Coldwell to amend its answer to assert the affirmative defense of setoff over the Marsos’ timeliness objection. Because Coldwell did not obtain the settlement agreement until shortly before trial and the Marsos had no right to rely on the absence of a setoff, the amendment did not result in legal prejudice to the Marsos. Under these circumstances, the court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Coldwell to pursue its setoff defense.

The Marsos next argued that the trial court erred when it set off the settlement payment against the jury verdict. When a party’s liability is based entirely on respondeat superior, a settlement with the agent is setoff against the jury verdict entered against the principal. Therefore, the trial court did not err in this regard.

The Marsos also contended that the trial court erred when it set off the settlement payment before statutory prejudgment interest accrued on the jury verdict. Statutory prejudgment interest accrues on the jury verdict before the setoff. Here, the court must calculate the interest that accrued on the jury’s verdict from the date of the Marsos’ injury to the date of Dilbeck’s settlement payment and add it to the jury verdict

The judgment and cost award in Coldwell’s favor was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.