June 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Counterclaims Asserted in Original Answer to Complaint and Need Not be Reasserted in Response to Amended Complaint

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mullins v. Medical Lien Management, Inc. on Thursday, September 26, 2013.

Car Accident—Settlement—Lien—Counterclaim—Evidence—Testimony—Hearsay—Admission—Lay Witness.

Plaintiff Jerry Mullins appealed the trial court’s judgment in favor of defendant Medical Lien Management Inc. (MLM). The judgment was affirmed.

This interpleader action stems from settlement proceeds recovered by Mullins due to a car accident. Mullins’s law firm, Darrell S. Elliott, P.C. (DSE), withheld a portion of the settlement pursuant to the fee agreement. However, MLM claimed to hold a medical lien of $17,081.10 on the settlement funds, which represented charges for care provided to Mullins by SpineOne P.C., as a result of injuries sustained by Mullins in the car accident.

Mullins asserted that the trial court erred in ruling in favor of MLM on its counterclaims because MLM had abandoned its counterclaims when it failed to reassert them in its answer to Mullins’s amended complaint. MLM had asserted counterclaims in its original Answer and continued to pursue those counterclaims during the case. Therefore, MLM did not waived its right to pursue them, and the trial court did not err in permitting MLM to litigate its counterclaims, even though it did not reassert them in responding to Mullins’s Amended Complaint.

Mullins also asserted that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence and testimony presented by MLM because MLM failed to provide notice of the evidence to Mullins before trial. MLM’s first fourteen trial exhibits were identical to the exhibits MLM had attached to its summary judgment motion. The remaining exhibits were documents Mullins had given to MLM as part of the parties’ initial discovery disclosures. Accordingly, Mullins was familiar with the content of the trial exhibits, and their late disclosure could not have caused Mullins surprise that would have required their exclusion. Further, Mullins had notice of the witness’s identity because an affidavit in support of MLM’s motion for summary judgment contained statements from the witness similar to his testimony. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing MLM’s witness to testify.

Mullins further argued that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing MLM’s witness to testify as a lay witness about the reasonableness and necessity of SpineOne’s medical bills. The witness’s conclusions, however, did not involve a process of reasoning that could not be reached by an ordinary citizen without specialized training or experience. Therefore, the trial court did not err in allowing this witness to testify about his lay opinion.

Finally, Mullins’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting numerous exhibits that contained hearsay failed because all three documents constituted admissions by a party opponent. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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