May 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Instruction on Highest Degree of Care Unnecessary in Ambulance PI Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bedee v. American Medical Response of Colorado on Thursday, September 10, 2015.

Negligence—Jury Instruction—Highest Degree of Care.

Bedee was a member of a medical team that transported a neonate in an ambulance owned by American Medical Response of Colorado (AMR). On the return trip, Bedee rode in the back of the ambulance, which was equipped with lap belts for occupants. The ambulance allegedly hit a series of dips in the road so severe that Bedee was lifted off her seat and slammed back down causing her lower back to twist and torque. Bedee sought damages for a lower back injury, alleging the drivers were negligent because they didn’t slow down when hitting the dips.

Before trial, Bedee submitted a trial brief arguing that a jury instruction should be given that the ambulance drivers owed its passengers the highest degree of care because of their control of the ambulance and her lack of freedom of movement during the ride. AMR rebutted this, arguing that ambulances are not common carriers under a Colorado statute and therefore the higher degree of care should not apply. The trial court did not give the instruction. The jury returned a verdict in favor of AMR, finding that AMR did not act negligently or cause Bedee’s injuries. Bedee appealed, arguing it was reversible error to not give the highest standard of care instruction.

The Court of Appeals discussed the elements of a negligence action and the factors set forth under Lewis v. Buckskin Joe’s, 396 P.2d 933 (Colo. 1964),for the highest degree of care instruction. It noted these factors have only been applied in Colorado to ski lift operators and operators of amusement rides. It also noted that a trial court may instruct a jury on the highest degree of care only where “all minds concur” that a business by its very nature is “fraught with peril to the public.” In addition, if a defendant is a “common carrier,” it has the duty to exercise the highest degree of care to its passengers.

Here, the Court found no evidence of an increased degree of risk on the return ambulance trip. Just as any other driver in Colorado, there was no reason to hold the ambulance driver to a higher degree of care than that of reasonable care. To hold otherwise would to establish precedent that every driver owes a higher degree of care than reasonable care to its passengers.

The Court also rejected the argument that the ambulance was a common carrier. The Court found that most jurisdictions based this determination on their statutes. In Colorado, the statutory definition in Title 40 does not encompass ambulances, and in fact, they are specifically excluded in CRS § 40-10.1-105(1)(d). The judgment was affirmed.

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

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