November 25, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Testimony of Treating Physician About Preexisting Condition Properly Admitted in Personal Injury Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gonzales v. Windlan on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

Personal Injuries—Expert Testimony—Non-retained Expert—Noneconomic Damages—Costs—Prevailing Party.

This case arose from a car accident in which Windlan drove through an intersection without the right-of-way and struck a car driven by Gonzales. The jury found Windlan 60% at fault and Gonzales 40% at fault for the accident. The trial court found Windlan to be the prevailing party and awarded costs to her in the amount of $15,637.77.

On appeal, Gonzales contended that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Dr. Sayed’s expert testimony about a radiologist’s MRI report from October 2009. Dr. Sayed was Gonzales’s primary care physician, treated Gonzales after the accident, reviewed the MRI report from another specialist at the time, and opined that the MRI report showed a degenerative condition that was probably present before Gonzales’s accident and did not indicate an acute injury as claimed by Gonzales. Although he was not a radiologist, Dr. Sayed had the knowledge and experience to testify about MRI reports because he regularly reviewed and relied on them in the course of his medical practice. Therefore, Dr. Sayed was qualified to give expert testimony about the 2009 MRI report, and such testimony was properly admitted as non-retained expert testimony.

Gonzales also contended that the jury award of zero noneconomic damages was contrary to the evidence and inconsistent with the jury award of $640 for economic damages. There was ample evidence, however, to support the jury’s finding that Gonzales’s injuries were minor and did not result in compensable noneconomic damages.

Gonzales also contended that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that Windlan was the prevailing party and granting Windlan’s motion for costs under CRCP 54(d). The jury’s verdict generally aligned with Windlan’s position on each contested issue. It found Gonzales 40% at fault for the accident (Gonzales claimed that Windlan was fully at fault); awarded damages in an amount equal to an amount billed by the doctor who diagnosed Gonzales with a temporary muscle strain (Gonzales sought $212,000 in economic damages); and awarded no damages for noneconomic losses or physical impairment (Gonzales’s counsel requested noneconomic damages between $25,000 and $2 million). Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Windlan to be the prevailing party and awarding costs to Windlan. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Burden of Proof Does Not Shift Under Res Ipsa Loquitur

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Chapman, M.D. v. Harner on Monday, December 8, 2014.

Allocation of the Burden of Proof Under Res Ipsa Loquitur.

In this case, the Supreme Court clarified the proper allocation of the burden of proof under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Specifically, the Court resolved the tension between its fifty-six-year-old precedent in Weiss v. Axler, 137 Colo. 544, 559, 328 P.2d 88, 96-97 (1958), which held that the burden of proof shifts to the defendant once a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of res ipsa loquitur, and the more recent adoption of CRE 301, which indicates that rebuttable presumptions such as res ipsa loquitur shift onto the defendant only the burden of production and not the burden of proof. After determining that this issue has remained unsettled since the adoption of CRE 301, the Court held that the burden of proof does not shift to the defendant under res ipsa loquitur. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies Deprived Trial Court of Jurisdiction

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Liberty Bankers Life Insurance Co. v. First Citizens Bank & Trust Co. on Thursday, November 6, 2014.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act—Receiver—Proof of Claim—Doctrine of Administrative Exhaustion—Attorney Fees.

The underlying claims in this case relate to appellant’s (Liberty) participation in two loans with Colorado Capital Bank (CCB) for the purpose of funding the development of a townhome project. CCB was closed by the Colorado Division of Banking on July 8, 2011, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named its receiver (FDIC-R). On the same day, First Citizens Bank & Trust Co. (FCBT) purchased the assets and assumed the liabilities of CCB in a purchase and assumption agreement. The FDIC later denied Liberty’s proof of claim, and Liberty thereafter filed suit against FCBT and the FDIC-R in federal court. In the state court proceedings, Liberty filed twelve counterclaims against FCBT, which were dismissed by the court.

On appeal, Liberty argued that the district court incorrectly dismissed its counts 1 through 3 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. However, Liberty did not properly plead the claims found in its counterclaims in its original proof of claim. Therefore, the district court correctly dismissed those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Liberty further argued that the doctrine of administrative exhaustion did not apply in this case. Liberty’s futility argument was based on (1) the transfer of assets and liabilities to FCBT and (2) the FDIC-R’s motion to dismiss in the federal litigation. The jurisdictional bar extends to successors in interest of the failed bank. Further, by failing to properly plead its claims in the proof of claim, Liberty had already failed to exhaust the process provided to it. FDIC-R’s actions in filing a motion to dismiss, therefore, had no bearing on futility. Accordingly, Liberty’s pursuit of relief is not futile “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and does not excuse its failure to exhaust its claims. The district court correctly dismissed those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

FCBT claimed that it was entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred on appeal under CRS § 13-17-201. Although Liberty’s counterclaims facially alleged a tort claim of gross negligence and willful misconduct, the overall action was more accurately characterized as a contract action, because all of the counterclaims were based on acts or omissions relating to the alleged breach of the two participation agreements. The essence of Liberty’s action did not sound in tort, so FCBT was not entitled to attorney fees incurred on appeal under CRS § 13-17-201.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of  The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jurors Should Have Been Polled Regarding Exposure to News Report Prejudicial to Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jacobson on Thursday, November 6, 2014.

Poll the Jury—Media—Prejudice.

A jury convicted Jacobson of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence (DUI), and other related charges, all arising from a collision between her truck and a taxi cab. Two passengers in the taxi were killed.

During trial, defense counsel told the court that a report about the case had appeared the preceding night on Channel 4 newscast and the local television station’s website. Defense counsel requested to poll the jury concerning exposure to mid-trial publicity that included inadmissible, prejudicial information. The court denied the request.

On appeal, Jacobson argued that the court abused its discretion when it declined to poll the jury. The news report referred to Jacobson’s prior DUI conviction and prior accidents involving injury, alleged that she was driving without a license, and included an interview with someone involved in her previous accident. Due to the nature of this content, the court abused its discretion in failing to determine whether this information was inherently prejudicial and thereafter declining to poll the jury. Because this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, Jacobson’s convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial on all charges.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Particular Circumstances Leading to Fall from Horse Should Be Analyzed for Liability Determination

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kovnat v. Xanterra Parks & Resorts on Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

Corrine Kovnat and her husband vacationed in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in June 2012. While there, Kovnat and her husband went on a horseback ride at the Canyon Corral, operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. While on the trail, Kovnat’s saddle slipped and she fell, striking her back on the ground and fracturing three vertebrae. Kovnat filed a diversity action against Xanterra, claiming Xanterra negligently operated Canyon Corrals because Kovnat’s horse was improperly saddled, and that Xanterra negligently failed to maintain the saddle in a safe condition or warn Kovnat of its unsafe condition. Xanterra filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that under the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA), Xanterra owed no duty of care to protect Kovnat from the injuries alleged in her complaint. The district court granted summary judgment to Xanterra, and Kovnat appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the WRSA, and found that in general, claims like Kovnat’s would not be allowed. The Tenth Circuit reviewed a similar case involving a Wyoming horseback rider injured in a saddle accident, where it ruled that the particular circumstances leading to the rider’s injury needed to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Turning to Kovnat’s claims, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s summary judgment regarding Kovnat’s claim that the saddle cinch was not tight enough, because there was a great deal of evidence that employees of Xanterra checked the cinch and it was too tight to slip the saddle back around after Kovnat’s fall, therefore any slipping of the cinch was an inherent risk of horseback riding. However, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Kovnat’s claim that her stirrups were uneven and determined that the uneven stirrups may not have been a result of the inherent risks of horseback riding. It remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

As to Kovnat’s negligent training and supervision claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment as to the cinch issue and reversed as to the stirrup issue. The case was remanded for further findings regarding whether the uneven stirrups were an inherent risk of horseback riding or some extenuating circumstance in which Xanterra may have been liable.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Named Insured Means All Persons Named in Policy for UM Coverage Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Johnson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co, Inc. on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage—Scope of Waiver.

Daphne Satriano helped her roommate, plaintiff, buy a car. When plaintiff’s insurance policy expired, Satriano called her insurance company (State Farm) to obtain a policy for the car. Plaintiff was not present during the call. Both plaintiff and Satriano were listed as “named insured” and Satriano signed a form waiving uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. Plaintiff did not sign the form, nor was he aware of it. Satriano told plaintiff he was “fully covered.” The written policy, mailed to Satriano, did not state whether UM/UIM coverage had been waived.

Plaintiff was seriously injured in an accident. The at-fault driver was underinsured. State Farm paid the policy limits of the UM/UIM coverage from a second policy that Satriano had on her car, but refused to pay under the policy on plaintiff’s car. Plaintiff sued State Farm, and the trial court found that Satriano had acted as agent for plaintiff in waiving the UM/UIM coverage and the driver was bound by that waiver.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that State Farm did not show that plaintiff expressly waived UM/UIM coverage on his car’s policy. The general rule in Colorado is that automobile liability insurance policies must contain coverage for bodily injury damages caused by uninsured or underinsured motorists unless “the named insured” waives such coverage in writing. The Court found it was unambiguous that a “named insured” under the UM/UIM statutes means all persons listed in a policy. Even if the term were not unambiguous, the legislative history and policies for UM/UIM coverage support the conclusion that a waiver of UM/UIM coverage is effective only as to each named insured that has expressly waived it. The Court then examined common law agency principles and concluded that one named insured may not act as an agent for another in waiving UM/UIM coverage on the other’s behalf unless the agent acts with express actual authority from the other. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Medical Marijuana Grower Not Entitled to Bring § 1983 Action for Destruction of Plants

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Young v. Larimer County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Medical Marijuana Amendment—42 USC § 1983—Seizure—Taking—Constitution.

Young leased property where he grew marijuana plants and distributed marijuana for medical use under the Medical Marijuana Amendment (MMA), Article XVIII, §14 of the Colorado Constitution. After obtaining search warrants, sheriff’s deputies entered Young’s property and seized forty-two marijuana plants by cutting them off just above the roots. This action killed the plants. After Young was acquitted of all charges against him, he brought this action for damages on the basis that the deputies had killed the plants seized from him. The trial court entered summary judgment against Young.

On appeal, Young argued that 42 USC § 1983 provides a remedy for state action that violates a right created by the MMA. Section 14(2)(e) of the MMA requires that medical marijuana that has been seized be returned upon acquittal of criminal charges. However, because federal law criminalizes possession of marijuana, such a claim is not cognizable under § 1983. Further, no express or implied private right of action exists under the MMA. Therefore, the trial court properly entered summary judgment on this claim.

Defendants argued that because Young’s complaint alleged a taking only under federal law (which is foreclosed by the federal criminalization of marijuana), a state law takings claim under Article II, §15 of the Colorado Constitution should not be considered. A valid seizure under criminal law does not constitute a taking for which the owner is entitled to just compensation, even if the defendant is later acquitted of the charges. Therefore, the trial court properly entered summary judgment on the state law takings claim. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Failure to File Tax Returns for Several Years Probative of Character for Truthfulness

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Leaf v. Beihoffer on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Negligence—Driving Under the Influence of Drugs—Impeachment—Evidence—Tax Returns—CRE 608(b)—Guilty Plea—Jury Instructions.

Defendant Beihoffer’s car rear-ended plaintiff Leaf’s taxicab on an icy road. Beihoffer ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI). Leaf sued Beihoffer for negligence, and the court entered judgment in Beihoffer’s favor.

On appeal, Leaf contended that the district court committed reversible error by allowing impeachment evidence that he had failed to file income tax returns for several years, because that evidence was not probative of his truthfulness and was unfairly prejudicial. Evidence of a witness’s failure to file income tax returns for several years is probative of the witness’s character for truthfulness and therefore admissible under CRE 608(b) to impeach the witness’s credibility. Therefore, the court did not err in admitting such evidence.

Leaf also contended that the district court erred by not giving preclusive effect to Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea and by excluding evidence of the plea offered for impeachment. However, evidence of Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea had no preclusive effect in this case. The court also did not err in excluding evidence of the guilty plea for impeachment, because there was sufficient cumulative evidence presented to the jury on this undisputed issue.

Finally, because Leaf did not allege a negligence per se claim in this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Leaf’s proposed definitional instruction of DUI. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Opinion Amended Upon Request for Rehearing

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals released its amended opinion in Bayless v. United States on Friday, September 12, 2014. In this case, the United States filed a petition for panel rehearing, which was granted in part. Modifications were made to pages 2 and 23 of the published opinion. The request for rehearing was otherwise denied. To read the summary of the original opinion, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Substantial Compliance with Notice Provisions Sufficient for Hospital to Enforce Lien

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wainscott v. Centura Health Corporation on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Auto Accident—Hospital Lien Statute—Notice—Substantial Compliance—Colorado Consumer Protection Act—Fraudulent Concealment.

Donald Wainscott was injured in an auto accident caused by third parties (tortfeasors). He received treatment at St. Anthony Central Hospital, which is managed and operated by Centura Health Corporation. To secure payment of these medical expenses, Centura asserted a statutory hospital lien against any settlement or judgment that Donald Wainscott might receive as a result of the accident. The trial court declared that Centura’s failure to strictly comply with the hospital lien statute rendered its lien unenforceable.

On appeal, Centura argued that it substantially complied with the hospital lien statute and that the trial court erred in finding the lien was unenforceable. Because minor filing and notice deficiencies should not invalidate an otherwise valid hospital lien, substantial compliance may be sufficient to satisfy the filing and notice provisions of Colorado’s hospital lien statute. A lienholder substantially complies when it satisfies the statute’s purposes through timely actual notice of the lien to those against whom the lienholder attempts to enforce the lien. Because Centura did identify and serve the tortfeasors’ insurer and Donald Wainscott, Centura substantially complied with the hospital lien statute and the trial court erred in finding the lien was not enforceable.

On cross-appeal, the Wainscotts contended that the district court erroneously dismissed their Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and fraudulent concealment claims under CRCP 12(b)(5) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The basis of the Wainscotts’ CCPA claim was an injury resulting from Centura’s failure to bill Medicare. However, during the period of time in question, Centura was required to refrain from billing Medicare and to seek payment from the tortfeasors’ liability insurer. Thereafter, it had the option of billing Medicare. Centura’s failure to advise the Wainscotts that it was obeying the law did not constitute a deceptive or unfair trade practice. Further, Centura did not have a duty to disclose that it planned to pursue payment from the tortfeasors or their insurer.Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed the CCPA and fraudulent concealment claims.

The district court’s dismissal of the Wainscotts’ CCPA and fraudulent concealment claims was affirmed. The summary judgment as to the Wainscotts’ declaratory action to determine the validity of Centura’s hospital lien was reversed. The case was remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the amount of Centura’s asserted lien represents “reasonable and necessary charges” under CRS § 38-27-101.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Nurse’s Refusal to Assess Inmate’s Severe Abdominal Pain Violated Prisoner’s Eighth Amendment Rights

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Al-Turki v. Robinson on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.

Homaidan Al-Turki was a prisoner with Type II diabetes and other health conditions. On the night of October 5, 2008, he suddenly experienced severe abdominal pain. The pain was so severe he collapsed, vomited, and believed he was dying. He used his cell’s intercom to contact a correctional officer and request to go to the prison’s medical center. The officer called the medical center, where nurse Mary Robinson was the only medical staff person on duty. Robinson refused to see Al-Turki, despite knowing that severe abdominal pain can be a symptom of several life-threatening conditions and knowing that Al-Turki’s Type II diabetes made him susceptible to certain serious illnesses of which severe abdominal pain is an early symptom. Robinson also refused to allow him to be transported to a medical facility, claiming he was a flight risk.

Al-Turki reported his severe pain to a second correctional officer two more times that night, and the officer called Robinson both times. Robinson refused to see Al-Turki and advised the officer that he should file a written request for medical care the following morning. At some point in the night, Al-Turki either fell asleep or lost consciousness. When he awoke at 4 a.m., the pain was slightly better, and at 6 a.m. he was no longer experiencing pain. At a previously scheduled medical appointment at 10 a.m., he passed two kidney stones.

Al-Turki filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several prison officials, including Robinson, based on the officials’ failure to provide him medical assistance or treatment during the several hours he was in extreme pain while passing a kidney stone. The district court granted qualified immunity to all prison officials except Robinson, who filed an interlocutory appeal with the Tenth Circuit. The district court concluded Al-Turki could prove a claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court also concluded the law is clearly established that a medical professional who knows of and appreciates an inmate’s risk of serious medical harm must make a good faith effort to assess the individual.

The Tenth Circuit addressed Robinson’s two issues: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to satisfy the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment extreme indifference test, and (2) whether her actions violated clearly established state law. As to the first claim, Robinson claimed that Al-Turki’s pain could not satisfy the objective prong because kidney stones are a relatively benign, albeit painful, condition and he was only in pain for a few hours. The Tenth Circuit stoutly rejected her argument, noting that Al-Turki was in so much pain he vomited and believed he was dying. He demonstrated significant suffering and was provided neither medical treatment to ease his suffering nor medical diagnosis to ease his fear of death. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected her qualified immunity arguments based on Al-Turki’s relatively short period of suffering and benign diagnosis, since the facts concerning duration and diagnosis were not known at the time and he could have been suffering from any of a number of life-threatening conditions.

As to Robinson’s second claim, the Tenth Circuit ruled that Robinson violated clearly established law by choosing to ignore Al-Turki’s complaints. The denial of qualified immunity was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Statements in Articles, When Read in Context, Revealed Nasty Employment Dispute but Did Not Constitute Defamation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hogan v. Winder on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

Beginning in 2008, Chris Hogan worked for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a state agency charged with upgrading high-speed internet access, as a consultant under a professional services agreement. In 2011, Hogan suspected that UTOPIA’s executive director unfairly favored a bid for services from a company where the director’s brother worked. Hogan discussed his suspicions with the plant manager overseeing the contractor selection process, the plant manager discussed that conversation with the executive director, and the executive director terminated Hogan’s employment.

The day after the termination, the mayor of West Valley City, Utah, Michael Winder, requested an interview with Hogan. At that meeting, Hogan began to suspect that Winder was associated with UTOPIA. Hogan then hired an attorney who sent UTOPIA a draft complaint, alleging wrongful discharge and several contract claims. The attorney also sent UTOPIA a letter that Hogan would be amenable to settling the dispute. The attorney sent UTOPIA another letter a few days later, raising four demands for settlement and suggesting that the public scrutiny from Hogan’s lawsuit could destroy the company. UTOPIA’s attorney responded with a letter saying that the common terms for Hogan’s attorney’s demands were “extortion” and “blackmail.” Shortly after these exchanges, both parties filed suit. UTOPIA requested the state court to seal the record. Hogan filed suit in federal court and, after the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about the lawsuit, UTOPIA moved to seal the record in the federal suit as well. The state court denied the motion to seal, and UTOPIA voluntarily dismissed its case and its motions to seal. Five days later, an online media outlet published a story titled “Former UTOPIA contractor accused of extortion.” It was later revealed that Winder pseudonymously wrote the article. Other news outlets published condensed versions of Winder’s article. Hogan sued UTOPIA, Winder, the city, and a number of other persons he believed to be involved in the publication of the articles, alleging defamation, false invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and § 1983 violations.  The district court dismissed all his claims and Hogan appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, examining each claim in turn. The Tenth Circuit noted that the potentially defamatory statements were explained by the articles’ context. Examined in context, the Tenth Circuit found that any reasonable reader would realize the parties were embroiled in a nasty employment dispute and would not take the statements at face value. Likewise, Hogan’s arguments that the statements portrayed him in a false light fail, because taken in context, any reasonable reader would recognize that the statements were made during a nasty employment dispute. As to Hogan’s claims regarding intentional infliction of emotional distress, the statements do not meet Utah’s high standard requiring outrageousness, and these claims fail as well. Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed Hogan’s § 1983 civil rights claims. The district court concluded that Hogan failed to show the officials were acting under the color of state law while publishing the articles, and the Tenth Circuit agreed.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed.