July 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Governmental Immunity May Be Waived for Operation or Maintenance of Public Facility Performed by Independent Contractor

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Lopez v. City of Grand Junction on Thursday, July 12, 2018.

Negligence—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Waiver—Independent Contractor—Maintenance Work.

The underground maintenance of a public traffic light in Grand Junction breached a natural gas line. Gas from the ruptured line leaked into the surrounding ground and a sewer main and migrated to a house, resulting in an explosion. Lopez, Pierson, and Gimmeson (plaintiffs) brought negligence claims against the City of Grand Junction (City) for their resultant personal injuries and property damage. Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges, among other things, that the City breached its duty of care to safely maintain its utility, electric, and sewer lines. As pertinent here, the complaint alleged that the City contracted with Apeiron Utility Construction (Apeiron) to upgrade utility lines that powered a traffic light; during this maintenance project Apeiron ruptured a gas line; and the leaking gas resulted in the house explosion. The complaint further alleged that Apeiron’s conduct should be imputed to the City. The City moved to dismiss these negligence claims for lack of jurisdiction under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), asserting governmental immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). The court granted the motion.

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court erroneously concluded that Apeiron’s conduct in maintaining the traffic light was not attributable to the City for purposes of waiving the City’s immunity under C.R.S. § 24-10-106(1)(f). For purposes of the immunity waiver in C.R.S. § 24-10-106(1)(f), a public entity maintains a public facility even if it hires an independent contractor to perform the maintenance. Here, plaintiffs met their burden to establish a waiver of immunity as to their negligence claims against the City.

Plaintiffs next asserted that the district court erred when it dismissed their negligence claim against the City as to its operation and maintenance of its sewer main. Plaintiffs asserted that the City’s failure to keep the main free of invasive roots was a failure to maintain that waived liability under the CGIA. Based on the record, plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to prove a waiver.

The dismissal of plaintiffs’ negligence claim against the City as to its operation and maintenance of its sewer main was affirmed. The dismissal of the negligence claims against the City for Apeiron’s maintenance work on the traffic light was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Erred in Granting New Trial for Reasons Not Enumerated in C.R.C.P. 59(d)

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Rains on Monday, June 25, 2018.

C.R.C.P. 59(d)—Proper Grounds for New Trial.

In this case, the supreme court considered whether the trial court abused its discretion when it granted plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial after a jury found that defendants, two pilots, were not negligent during a near collision that resulted in one plane crashing and killing all five passengers on board. The court concluded that the trial court’s stated reasons did not meet the grounds enumerated in C.R.C.P. 59(d) and that a trial court may not grant a new trial for reasons other than those enumerated in C.R.C.P. 59(d). Thus, the trial court abused its discretion in granting a new trial. The court made its rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Settlement Including Reduction for MedPay Amounts Enforceable Post-Calderon

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arline v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. on Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Uninsured/Underinsured Settlement and Release Agreement—C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) Dismissal.

Arline submitted claims to American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American) under insurance policies that provided $5,000 in MedPay coverage and $50,000 in individual underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. American paid $5,000 in MedPay benefits on Arline’s behalf and negotiated Arline’s damages under her UIM coverage to be $27,000, after subtracting the $5,000 in MedPay benefits already paid. In November 2015, Arline, represented by counsel, accepted the $27,000 payment and signed a release agreement (Agreement) releasing American under the UIM policy.

In November 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court held for the first time in Calderon v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., 2016 CO 72, that C.R.S. § 10-4-609(1)(c) prohibits insurers from reducing the UIM benefits paid on a claim by the amount of MedPay benefits paid on that claim, which the court deemed a “setoff.” (Counsel in that case now represents Arline.)  Arline then sued American for breach of contract and seeking class certification, asserting that American had unlawfully reduced UIM payments using a MedPay setoff. American responded that the Agreement was a complete bar to the cause of action and moved to dismiss. The district court found the Agreement enforceable and granted American’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing.

On appeal, Arline argued that the district court erred in dismissing her complaint because American’s payment pursuant to the Agreement caused her to suffer an injury-in-fact to a legally protected interest. Though the supreme court held that C.R.S. § 10-4-609(1)(c) prohibits policy provisions allowing a setoff from other coverage, it did not hold that the statute extended to settlement agreements. An insured may agree to a settlement and release as long as the terms do not violate statutory prohibitions or public policy. If a release agreement is valid, dismissal of claims encompassed by the agreement is proper. Here, Arline entered into the Agreement voluntarily while represented by counsel who was fully informed that certiorari had been granted in Calderon. She negotiated her damages benefits and agreed that the UIM benefit amount paid compensated her sufficiently to warrant releasing American from any further claims. In addition, Colorado public policy favors the settlement of disputes when the settlement is fairly reached. Arline signed a valid release agreement that is not void as against public policy or prohibited by statute. The district court properly dismissed her claim.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: “Suicide, Sane or Insane” Means Intentional Commission of Self-Injurious Act

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Co. on Monday, June 4, 2018.

Life insurance Policies—Suicide Exclusion Clauses.

In this opinion, the Supreme Court answered a question of state law certified by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The Court was asked to interpret the meaning of the words “suicide, sane or insane” when used in life insurance policies. The Court concluded that, under Colorado law, a life insurance policy exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” excludes coverage only if the insured, whether sane or insane at the time, committed an act of self-destruction with the intent to kill himself.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: One-year Statute of Limitations Does Not Apply to Bad Faith Actions Under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1)

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rooftop Restoration, Inc. v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co. on Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

Unreasonable Delay and Denial of Insurance Benefits—Statute of Limitations—Statutory Interpretation.

The supreme court considered a certified question from the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Specifically, the court determined whether the one-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-103(1)(d) governs actions under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1), which creates a cause of action to address the unreasonable delay or denial of insurance benefits. The court concluded that the one-year statute of limitations does not apply to actions brought under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) because the legislature did not intend C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) to operate as a penalty within the context of the statutory scheme.

The certified question was answered in the negative and the case was returned to the district court for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Survivor Statute Does Not Allow Personal Injury Award to be Limited

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Co. v. Estate of Casper on Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

Unreasonable Delay and Denial of Insurance Benefits—Abatement—Actual Damages.

The supreme court considered the operation of C.R.S. § 13-20-101, Colorado’s survival statute, and C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1), a statutory cause of action for the unreasonable delay or denial of insurance benefits. The court also considered the scope of the trial court’s authority to enter a final judgment nunc pro tunc.

The original plaintiff in this case died after receiving a favorable jury verdict but before that verdict had been reduced to a written and signed entry of final judgment. Defendant then moved to substantially reduce the jury award, arguing that the survival statute barred certain damages. The court concluded that the survival statute does not limit the jury’s verdict in favor of the original plaintiff. The court further concluded that an award of attorney fees under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) is a component of the “actual damages” of a successful claim under that section and that, although the survival statute did not limit the damages awarded by the jury, the trial court abused its discretion by entering a final judgment nunc pro tunc.

The court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) Does Not Require Reduction of Damages Award by Amount of Benefits Delayed but Ultimately Paid

The Colorado Supreme Court issued American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Barriga on Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

Unreasonable Delay and Denial of Insurance Benefits—Damages.

The supreme court considered the operation of a statutory scheme that prohibits the unreasonable delay or denial of insurance benefits. Specifically, the court considered whether an award of damages under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) must be reduced by an insurance benefit unreasonably delayed but ultimately recovered by an insured outside of a lawsuit. The court held that an award under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) must not be reduced by an amount unreasonably delayed but eventually paid by an insurer because the plain text of the statute provides no basis for such a reduction. The court further concluded that the general rule against double recovery for a single harm does not prohibit a litigant from recovering under claims for both a violation of C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) and breach of contract.

The court of appeals’ decision was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Insurers Have Duty Not to Unreasonably Withhold or Delay Payments, Even Where Other Parts of Claim in Dispute

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Fisher on Monday, May 21, 2018.

Insurance—Underinsured Motorist Benefits—Unreasonable Delay/Denial of Payment.

The supreme court held that under C.R.S. § 10-3-1115 insurers have a duty not to unreasonably delay or deny payment of covered benefits, even though other components of an insured’s claim may still be reasonably in dispute. Here, an insurer issued multiple underinsured motorist insurance policies that covered a driver who was injured by an underinsured motorist. Though the insurer agreed that its policies covered the driver’s medical expenses, it refused to pay them because the insurer disputed other amounts (including lost wages) that the driver sought under the policies. A jury found that the insurer violated C.R.S. § 10-3-1115, which provides that an insurer “shall not unreasonably delay or deny payment of a claim for benefits owed to or on behalf of any first-party [insured] claimant.” Because the court of appeals properly upheld the driver’s jury award, the court affirmed its judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Road Condition Did Not Create “Unreasonable Risk,” Therefore CGIA Applied

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City & County of Denver v. Dennis on Monday, May 21, 2018.

Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Sovereign Immunity.

The supreme court considered whether the City and County of Denver waived its immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). After a motorcycle accident, plaintiff sued the City and County of Denver, and alleged that Denver had waived its immunity under the CGIA because the road on which plaintiff was traveling constituted a dangerous condition that physically interfered with the movement of traffic. To prove a dangerous condition, a plaintiff must prove four elements, one of which is that the road constituted an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public.

The court defined “unreasonable risk” in this context as a road condition that creates a chance of injury, damage, or loss that exceeds the bounds of reason. This determination will be fact specific, and in this case, the road did not create an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public. Nor did the condition of the road physically interfere with the movement of traffic.

The court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Plaintiff Not Allowed to Treat Denial of Liability as Denial of Coverage

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Pena v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Uninsured Motorist—Denial of Liability—Denial of Coverage—CRCP 12(b)(5) Dismissal.

Peña was involved in a three-car collision. Both Peña and Garner, another driver involved in the accident, were insured by defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American Family). Peña sent a letter to American Family asserting a claim under the uninsured motorist provisions of her policy. American Family denied Peña’s claim, asserting that Garner was not responsible for the damage to her vehicle and Garner had coverage at the time of the accident, so Peña’s uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) provision would not apply.

Peña sued Garner and American Family in separate actions. In this action, she sued American Family under C.R.S. § 10-3-1115 for the unreasonable delay and denial of benefits due under the UMPD provisions of her policy. American Family moved to dismiss, arguing that Peña’s complaint failed, as a matter of law, to state a claim upon which relieve could be granted because Peña’s UMPD coverage applied only if American Family, as Garner’s insurer, denied coverage, rather than liability, for Garner in connection with the accident. The district court agreed with this interpretation of Peña’s policy and the distinction made between denial of coverage and denial of liability. But because American Family had only denied liability and the issue of liability had not yet been determined, the court concluded that Peña’s UMPD coverage did not apply at that point and the lawsuit was premature. The district court dismissed the case without prejudice.

On appeal, Peña contended that the district court erred in dismissing her case. She argued that the district court erred in not considering whether American Family unreasonably delayed or denied her claim before dismissing her action. Because American Family denied liability but not coverage, her policy’s UMPD provision was inapplicable, and there were no benefits that could have been delayed or denied. Peña had no claim as a matter of law. The district court’s determination that Peña’s lawsuit was premature was in error because Peña will never have a claim against American Family under her policy for unpaid UMPD benefits from the accident; Garner’s insurer has not denied coverage, which is the circumstance that would trigger Peña’s UMPD coverage. If Garner is ultimately found liable, Peña will have a claim against American Family under the liability provisions of his policy.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prejudgment Interest is Form of Compensatory Damages and Is Confined to Policy Limits

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in White v. Estate of Soto-Lerma on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Probate—Prejudgment Interest Costs—Insurance Policy—Liability LimitsOffer of Settlement.

Plaintiff’s claim arose from a car accident that occurred about a year before decedent died from unrelated causes. More than two years after decedent’s death, plaintiff filed suit, asserting that decedent had been negligent. Decedent’s estate consisted solely of his automobile insurance policy, which had a policy limit of $50,000 per person injured. Defendant rejected plaintiff’s pretrial statutory offer of settlement for the insurance policy limit of $50,000. After trial, a jury awarded plaintiff $100,000 in damages. The court reduced the award to $50,000, but ultimately entered judgment for $79,218, which included $11,600 in costs and $17,618 in prejudgment interest.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in awarding plaintiff prejudgment interest. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(1)(a) bars all claims against a decedent’s estate that arose before the decedent’s death and were not presented within the statutory time frame. It was undisputed that plaintiff’s claim was not timely presented. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) states that nothing prevents a proceeding to establish decedent’s liability to the limits of his insurance protection. This statute conflicts with C.R.S. § 13-21-101(1), which requires a court to award prejudgment interest. The court of appeals concluded that prejudgment interest is part of the underlying liability claim against an estate and is therefore subject to the insurance policy limits and the C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) bar on claims above that limit. C.R.S. § 15-12-803 bars an award of prejudgment interest above defendant’s $50,000 policy limit.

Plaintiff cross-appealed the judgment, arguing that the court should have entered judgment for the jury’s $100,000 damages award plus corresponding costs and prejudgment interest. Plaintiff contended that regardless of whether she could collect the jury award from defendant’s insurance company, judgment in excess of the policy limits was proper to leave open the possibility that plaintiff could be assigned the right to bring a bad faith claim against defendant’s insurer. The statutory language is clear that any untimely liability claim in excess of policy limits is barred.

Defendant also argued it was error to award costs in the final judgment, because such an award ignores the bar on claims in excess of insurance policy limits. Plaintiff argued for costs only under C.R.S. § 13-17-202, which provides that a plaintiff must be awarded costs only if the final judgment exceeds the settlement offer. Given that the final judgment did not and could not exceed the policy limit, which was also the amount of the settlement offer, plaintiff was not entitled to costs under C.R.S. § 13-17-202 and the trial court erred in entering a costs judgment above the policy limit.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $50,000.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Abused its Discretion by Failing to Apply Three-Part Test for Excusable Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Taylor v. HCA-HealthONE, LLC on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Medical Malpractice—Service—C.R.C.P. 4(m)—C.R.C.P. 60(b)—Excusable Neglect.

Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice action but failed to serve defendants within the C.R.C.P. 4(m) deadline. The district court dismissed the action without prejudice, and because the statute of limitations had run, plaintiff could not refile the lawsuit. She moved to set aside the judgment under C.R.C.P. 60(b) based on excusable neglect. Without holding a hearing, the district court concluded that counsel’s docketing errors did not amount to excusable neglect and denied the motion.

On appeal, plaintiff first argued that the district court’s dismissal order was invalid under C.R.C.P. 4(m) because the delay reduction order was premature. Although the rule requires notice before dismissal, it does not require notice after expiration of the service deadline. Thus, plaintiff was not entitled to additional notice beyond the delay reduction order and the district court’s order of dismissal was valid.

Plaintiff also argued that the court erred in failing to apply the three-factor test in Craig v. Rider, 651 P.2d 397 (Colo. 1982), in evaluating her Rule 60(b) motion to set aside the order of dismissal. That test requires the district court to consider not just whether the neglect that resulted in the order of dismissal was excusable, but also whether the plaintiff has alleged a meritorious claim and whether relief from the order would be consistent with equitable considerations. The district court abused its discretion in failing to analyze the Rule 60(b) motion under the three-part Craig test.

The order was vacated and the case was remanded to the district court to apply the Craig test.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.