November 18, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sovereign Immunity Under CGIA Waived for Injuries Suffered During Operation of Jail

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hernandez v. City & County of Denver on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

Negligence—Willful and Wanton Conduct—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Public Employee—Waiver of Sovereign Immunity—Jail Operation.

Hernandez sustained injuries while a pretrial detainee at the Denver Detention Center. She sued six of the jail’s employees, including Deputy Sheriff Dodson, alleging, as relevant to this appeal, willful and wanton conduct. Following an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Trinity Broadcasting of Denver, Inc. v. City of Westminster, 848 P.2d 916 (Colo. 1993), and pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), the district court found that Dodson and another defendant had not engaged in willful and wanton conduct and therefore enjoyed immunity from suit on those allegations.

On appeal, Hernandez alleged that the district court erred in finding Dodson was entitled to immunity. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act provides that a public employee may not assert immunity in an action for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail, regardless of whether the employee engaged in willful and wanton conduct. Because the allegations of willful and wanton conduct here do not raise an issue of sovereign immunity, the district court erred in dismissing them before trial via Rule 12(b)(1) and a Trinity hearing.

The order was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Age of Rental Car Driver Inconclusive to Support Tort Claims Against Rental Company

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Amparan v. Lake Powell Car Rental Companies on February 13, 2018.

Edmundo and Kimberly L. Amparan appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell Car Rental Companies on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium. The claims arose from a vehicle accident involving a motorcycle operated by Mr. Amparan and a Ford Mustang rented by Lake Powell to Denizcan Karadeniz and operated by Mevlut Berkay Demir. Because the Amparans failed to come forward with evidence from which the jury could find an essential element of their claim for negligent entrustment, the appeals court affirmed.

On July 14, 2014, a group of Turkish nationals, including Mr. Karadeniz, visited Lake Powell to rent two vehicles. Mr. Karadeniz produced a valid Turkish driver’s license and a valid credit card. Mert Tacir, another member of the group, produced a valid Turkish driver’s license. The owner and operator of Lake Powell, Paul Williams, asked the remaining individuals in the group if they possessed valid driver’s licenses. Mr. Demir responded that he possessed a valid driver’s license. At the time of the rental, all three individuals were 21 years old. Although Mr. Williams recognized that Mr. Karadeniz and Mr. Tacir were under the age of 25, he nonetheless agreed to rent to rent a Dodge Caravan and a Ford Mustang to Mr. Karadeniz and to permit Mr. Tacir as an additional authorized driver for the Ford Mustang. None of the other members of the group, including Mr. Demir, completed an “Additional Driver Application/Agreement.” However, Mr. Demir testified that he understood Mr. Williams’ inquiry into whether he possessed a driver’s license as a signaling that he had Lake Powell’s implicit permission to operate the vehicles. Because a reasonable jury could adopt Mr. Demir’s understanding, the Tenth Circuit proceeded under the assumption that Lake Powell implicitly entrusted the rental vehicles to Mr. Demir. Evidence in the record supports the conclusion that Mr. Williams’ decision to rent two vehicles to an individual under the age of 25 and to permit an additional driver under the age of 25 violates internal policies propagated by Lake Powell’s licensor, Avis Rent A Car Systems, LLC.

During the course of the rental, Mr. Demir operated the Ford Mustang. Mr. Demir, unfamiliar with the traffic rules governing left turns at intersections, turned left on a solid green light without yielding to oncoming traffic. Mr. Amparan, traveling in the oncoming direction, unsuccessfully attempted to swerve to avoid hitting the turning vehicle operated by Mr. Demir and the two vehicles collided. As a result of the collision, Mr. Amparan alleges he suffered multiple broken bones, a punctured lung, and various other injuries.

The Amparans filed complaint in New Mexico state court, naming Mr. Demir, Mr. Karadeniz, and Avis as defendants. Avis removed the action to federal court, where, after an initial round of discovery, the district court granted the Amparans leave to amend their complaint to add Lake Powell as a defendant. The amended complaint raised claims against Lake Powell for negligent entrustment, loss of consortium, and negligent supervision and training. Lake Powell moved for summary judgment, arguing, in part, that even if it implicitly entrusted the Mustang to Mr. Demir, it neither knew nor should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the vehicle in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. In response to Lake Powell’s motion for summary judgment, the Amparans filed a notice of testifying expert on both the risk posed by young drivers and standards of care in the car rental industry. The Amparans also contested Lake Powell’s motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that Lake Powell’s violation of internal policies regarding renting to, or approving as additional drivers, individuals under age 25 constituted sufficient evidence to permit the finding that Lake Powell knew or should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the Ford Mustang in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.

The district court indicated it would not consider factual assertions in the Amparans’ response to summary judgment that did not comply with District of New Mexico Local Rule of Civil Procedure 56.1(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1)(A). The district court denied Lake Powell’s motion to strike as moot. The district court deemed the motions to strike moot based on its conclusion that the Amparans’ evidence regarding Lake Powell’s alleged violation of internal policies was insufficient, on its own, to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Lake Powell knew or should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the Mustang in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The district court concluded that the disputes of fact with respect to whether Lake Powell entrusted the Mustang to Mr. Demir and whether Lake Powell violated any internal policies were not material because resolution of the disputes in favor of the Amparans did not alter the summary judgment decision.

On appeal, the Amparans argued that the district court failed to perform a proper analysis, in that a New Mexico court would view evidence of a violation of internal policies, which are also allegedly industry standards, sufficient to advance a claim for negligent entrustment. Alternatively, the Amparans urged the Tenth Circuit to address the merits of Lake Powell’s motions to strike. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium.

In an effort to overcome the extensive body of case law supporting the conclusion that the New Mexico Supreme Court would reject the proposition that evidence of a car rental company’s violation of internal policies is sufficient to establish the third element of a claim for negligent entrustment even where the entrustee possesses a valid driver’s license, the Amparans argued that their expert witness would testify on car rental industry standards regarding rentals to individuals under age 25. But the fact that evidence of a violation of an internal policy is probative on the question of negligence does not establish that the evidence is sufficient to make out a prima facie case of negligence. It cannot be said that the driver’s young age, on its own, makes it likely that the driver will cause an accident, will operate the vehicle in an incompetent manner, or will operate the vehicle in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. For, if such were true, no individual in New Mexico could grant a person under the age of 25 permission to drive a vehicle without facing liability for negligent entrustment based solely on the entrustee’s youthful age.

Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit held that the New Mexico Supreme Court would conclude that evidence of a car rental company’s violation of internal policies on the minimum age of renters and drivers is, on its own, insufficient to establish the third element of a claim for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle. Thus, the Amparans failed to advance sufficient evidence to make out a prima facie case of negligent entrustment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium.

Colorado Supreme Court: Tort Cannot Be Transaction Giving Rise to Obligation to Pay Money, Therefore Not Debt Per Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ybarra v. Greenberg & Sada, P.C. on Monday, October 15, 2018.

Finance, Banking, and Credit—Insurance—Statutory Interpretation—Torts.

Ybarra petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the dismissal of her Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act action against Greenberg & Sada, P.C. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim, finding that damages arising from a subrogated tort claim do not qualify as a debt within the contemplation of the Act. The court of appeals agreed, reasoning that the undefined term “transaction” in the Act’s definition of “debt,” required some kind of business dealing, as distinguished from the commission of a tort; and to the extent an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of an insured constitutes a transaction in and of itself, that transaction is not one obligating the debtor to pay money, as required by the Act.

The supreme court held that because a tort does not obligate the tortfeasor to pay damages, a tort cannot be a transaction giving rise to an obligation to pay money, and is therefore not a debt within contemplation of the Act; and because an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of a damaged insured is not a transaction giving rise to an obligation of the tortfeasor to pay money, it also cannot constitute a transaction creating a debt within contemplation of the Act.

Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Excess Insurer Must Step Into Shoes of Insured and Plead Primary Bad Faith

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Preferred Professional Insurance Co. v. The Doctors Co. on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Medical Malpractice—Primary Insurance Policy—Excess Insurance Policy—Equitable Subrogation —Bad Faith.

A medical malpractice suit was filed against Dr. Singh and other parties. The Doctors Company (TDC), the primary insurer, defended Dr. Singh in the suit as required by its primary liability policy. Preferred Professional Insurance Company’s (PPIC) insurance policy was an “excess policy,” which would cover any losses that exceeded TDC’s $1 million coverage up to an additional $1 million. As an excess insurer, PPIC did not have any duty to defend Dr. Singh in the suit. The plaintiff in the medical malpractice suit offered to settle the case with Dr. Singh for $1 million, the amount of TDC’s policy limits. Dr. Singh conveyed his desire to accept the settlement offer to both insurers, but TDC declined to settle the case. PPIC told Dr. Singh he should accept, and it paid the $1 million settlement. PPIC then filed suit against TDC for equitable subrogation to recover the amount paid. The district court granted summary judgment in PPIC’s favor without addressing TDC’s argument that PPIC was required to prove that TDC refused to settle in bad faith.

On appeal, TDC contended that the district court erred as a matter of law because an equitable subrogation claim brought by an excess insurer against the primary insurer to recover the amount paid in settlement can only be derivative of the insured’s rights. Thus, PPIC’s refusal to plead and present evidence that TDC acted in bad faith in declining to settle required dismissal of PPIC’s claim. An excess insurer seeking recovery under equitable subrogation for a primary insurer’s failure to settle a case against their mutual insured “steps in the shoes of the insured” and must plead and prove the primary insurer’s bad faith. Here, without an assertion that TDC acted in bad faith, PPIC’s equitable subrogation claim is not legally viable.

The order granting summary judgment for PPIC was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment of dismissal in TDC’s favor.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Nonparty at Fault Statute Does Not Preclude Evidence of Subsequent Providers’ Negligence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Danko v. Conyers, M.D. on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Torts—Medical Malpractice—Evidence—Pro Rata Liability—Non-Party Fault—Costs.

Dr. Conyers performed carpal tunnel surgery on Danko. He did not order a post-operative biopsy to detect possible infection and ultimately released Danko from further care. Danko sought a second opinion from Dr. Scott, who performed a minor procedure on Danko’s wrist and later diagnosed her with an infection. Subsequently, Danko saw Dr. Savelli, who recommended a regimen of antibiotics and periodic surgical debridement of infected tissue. Two weeks later, Danko consulted Dr. Lindeque, who amputated Danko’s forearm. Danko filed a complaint alleging that Dr. Conyers negligently failed to detect an infection resulting from the surgery, which led to amputation of her forearm. The jury found Dr. Conyers liable and awarded damages of $1.5 million.

On appeal, Dr. Conyers challenged the trial court’s exclusion of his evidence that physicians who treated Danko after the surgery were at fault for the amputation. Dr. Conyers did not seek to apportion fault between himself and the other providers. Instead, he sought to admit evidence of their negligence as a superseding cause of Danko’s amputation. Such evidence is admissible under C.R.S. § 13-21-111.5 (the nonparty at fault statute) even if a nonparty at fault has not been designated. Thus, the part of the trial court’s ruling excluding evidence that was based on C.R.S. § 13-21-111.5(b)(3) was incorrect. But the trial court also based its ruling on Restatement (Second) of Torts § 457, which provides an exception to the liability of initial physicians for harm from subsequent physicians’ extraordinary misconduct, a superseding cause. Here, the trial court acted within its discretion in excluding evidence of the other providers’ fault, under both Restatement § 457 and CRE 403, because Dr. Conyers had not presented evidence sufficient to invoke the extraordinary misconduct exception. Further, the trial court did not err in instructing the jury consistent with this ruling.

On cross-appeal, Danko challenged the trial court’s denial of certain costs, including jury consulting expenses. Danko made a settlement offer under C.R.S. § 13-17-202(1)(a)(I), which Dr. Conyers did not accept. The verdict exceeded the amount of the offer. A party may recover jury consulting expenses when that party made a statutory settlement offer that was rejected, and did better than the offer at trial. Here, the trial court improperly denied costs for jury consulting and related travel expenses.

The judgment was affirmed. The costs award was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to increase Danko’s costs award.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Petitioners’ Tort Claims for Airborne Asbestos Injuries Not Barred by Colorado Governmental Immunity Act

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Smokebrush Foundation v. City of Colorado Springs on Monday, February 5, 2018.

Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Sovereign Immunity.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the Colorado Court of Appeals division’s conclusion that petitioners’ claims against respondent city were barred under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). Petitioners asserted a number of tort claims for alleged injuries resulting from airborne asbestos released during demolition activities on the city’s property in 2013 and from the subsurface migration of coal tar pollutants created by historical coal gasification operations on the city’s property. The division concluded that each of these claims was barred under the CGIA.

The supreme court first addressed whether petitioners’ asbestos-related claims fell within the waiver of immunity set forth in C.R.S. § 24-10-106(1)(c) for injuries resulting from the dangerous condition of a public building. The CGIA defines a “dangerous condition,” in pertinent part, as a physical condition of a facility or the use thereof that constitutes an unreasonable risk to the health or safety of the public and that is proximately caused by the negligent act or omission of the public entity in “constructing or maintaining” such facility. C.R.S. § 24-10-103(1.3). Because the complete and permanent demolition of a building does not come within the plain meaning of the terms “constructing” or “maintaining” a facility, the court concluded that the dangerous condition of a public building exception does not apply.

Next, the court addressed whether petitioners’ coal tar-related claims fell within the waiver of immunity set forth in C.R.S. § 24-10-106(1)(f) for injuries resulting from the operation and maintenance of a public gas facility when, as here, petitioners’ cause of action accrued after the CGIA’s enactment but the operation and maintenance of the facility that caused the injury occurred before that enactment. Because petitioners have established that (1) the facility at issue was a public gas facility, (2) petitioners’ claimed injuries from the coal tar contamination resulted from the operation and maintenance of that facility, and (3) petitioners’ coal tar-related claims accrued after the CGIA’s enactment, the court concluded that under the plain language of C.R.S. § 24-10-106(1)(f), the city waived its immunity for these claims.

Accordingly, court affirmed the portion of the division’s judgment requiring the dismissal of petitioners’ asbestos-related claims but reversed the portion of the judgment requiring the dismissal of petitioners’ coal tar-related claims.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: CGIA Bars Father’s Claims that City Breached a Duty of Care to Prevent Son’s Death

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in L.J. v. Carracito on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Wrongful Death—Child Protection Act of 1987—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Police Officer—Failure to Report Child Abuse—Public Entity—Vicarious Liability—Tort—Willful and Wanton—Exemplary Damages.

D.J.M., age 2, died after suffering a beating by his mother’s boyfriend. D.J.M.’s father brought an action against the City of Colorado Springs (City) and Officer Carricato, individually and in his capacity as an officer with the City of Colorado Springs Police Department, for failing to report child abuse that father complained about to them multiple times. The complaint alleged violation of the Child Protection Act of 1987 (CPA); negligence (wrongful death) by the City and Officer Carricato; negligence per se by the City and Officer Carricato; violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the City and Officer Carricato; vicarious liability against the City; and an entitlement to exemplary damages under C.R.S. § 24-10-118(1)(c) against Officer Carricato. The district court determined that while the negligence claims for wrongful death and negligence per se were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), the claim for violation of the CPA was not barred because it was not a claim based in tort. The district court allowed the claim for vicarious liability to stand insofar as it related to the violation of the CPA and found, without conducting a hearing under Trinity Broadcasting of Denver, Inc. v. City of Westminster, that the complaint alleged a sufficient factual basis to support a claim of willful and wanton behavior.

On appeal, the City and Officer Carricato argued that the district court erred because the CGIA bars the claim for violation of the CPA and father’s complaint does not allege specific facts sufficient to support a finding that Officer Carricato’s conduct was willful and wanton. The City is undisputedly a “public entity.” The exceptions to sovereign immunity are not applicable here because (1) the enumerated statutory exceptions are not at issue; (2) the CPA does not fit within any of the statutory exceptions; and (3) father is not requesting equitable, remedial, or non-compensatory remedies. Here, the essence of father’s claim is that the City breached a duty of care owed to D.J.M., which caused his death. Because father’s claim lies or could lie in tort, the CGIA bars the claim against the City for alleged violation of the CPA. Thus, the district court improperly denied that part of the motion to dismiss. Similarly, the vicarious liability claims are claims that lie in tort or could lie in tort and are thus barred by the CGIA.

Furthermore, public employees are immune from liability for tort claims unless their act or omission was willful and wanton. The district court must determine whether the conduct was in fact willful or wanton. Here, the district court failed to hold a Trinity hearing on this issue.

Finally, Officer Carricato argued that the claim for exemplary damages cannot stand because it was improperly pleaded and that exemplary damages cannot be awarded against a police officer. The CGIA allows a claim for exemplary damages against public employees only if their conduct was willful and wanton. The claim for exemplary damages against the police officer was prematurely pled.

The portions of the judgment on the claims against the City, the vicarious liability claim, and the exemplary damages claim were reversed. The portion of the judgment relating to the claims against Officer Carricato was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Erred in Concluding Injured Worker Not Entitled to UIM Benefits from Personal Insurer

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ashour on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Personal InjuriesWorkers Compensation ActPersonal Automobile Insurance PolicyUninsured Motorist Benefits—Underinsured Motorist Benefits.

Ashour was an employee and co-owner of Nubilt Restoration & Construction (Nubilt). While employed with Nubilt, Ashour was severely injured when he was pinned by a 30-foot truck to a nearby tractor-trailer. The accident was caused by the negligence of his co-employee Peake, who failed to set the airbrake on the truck that rolled backward and pinned Ashour to the other vehicle. After the accident, Ashour submitted a claim to Nubilt’s workers’ compensation carrier and subsequently received benefits. He also submitted a claim to Nubilt’s corporate liability insurance provider and received a settlement for that claim based on a policy rider that allowed for coverage of workplace injuries. Ashour then made a claim under his personal automobile insurance policy with American Family Mutual Insurance Company (AFI) for underinsured (UIM) benefits to recover the remainder of his alleged damages. AFI then filed an action for declaratory relief as to whether Ashour was owed UIM coverage when the policy limited UIM benefits to situations where the insured was “legally entitled to recover” from the owner or operator of an uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle. The district court denied Ashour’s motion for summary judgment and granted AFI’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, Ashour contended that the district court erred by ruling, as a matter of law, that his claim for UIM coverage under his automobile insurance policy with AFI was precluded because he was not legally entitled to sue his employer or co-employee in tort for his injuries based on their immunity under the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado (the Act). Nubilt and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier are immune from suit by Ashour for his injuries sustained in the course and scope of his employment. By extension, co-employees are also immune from suit for injuries to a fellow employee arising out of the scope of employment. However, this exclusive remedy is limited to suits by an injured employee against his employer or co-employee; an injured employee may receive workers’ compensation benefits and bring suit against a third-party tortfeasor. Here, AFI’s uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) policy provides coverage where the tortfeasor is underinsured. Underinsured tortfeasors are those who are covered by insurance at the time of the accident. Thus, Nubilt and Peake are effectively underinsured in that Ashour received benefits up to Nubilt’s workers’ compensation insurance limits but still has additional damages from his workplace injury. It is the exhaustion of Nubilt’s and Peake’s limits of liability coverage (i.e., workers’ compensation insurance) that triggers AFI’s obligation to pay UM/UIM benefits. Therefore, Ashour’s claim for UIM benefits under his policy with AFI is not barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Act or by the “legally entitled to recover” language of the policy.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of Ashour, declaring, as a matter of law, that AFI must provide coverage of UM/UIM benefits to Ashour upon his proof that Peake was at fault for causing his injuries and of the extent of his damages in excess of the coverage offered him under the Act.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Penalty of Two Times Covered Benefit for Insurance Bad Faith Upheld

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Nibert v. Geico Casualty Co. on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Bad Faith—C.R.S. § 10-3-1116—Jury Instructions—Statutory Delay—Attorney Fees.

Nibert and her husband were injured when a car collided with their motorcycle. As relevant to this appeal, Nibert had an underinsured motorist (UIM) policy through Geico Casualty Co. (Geico) with a $25,000 coverage limit. Geico offered Nibert $1,500 to settle her claim.

Nibert sued Geico for breach of contract, common law bad faith, and statutory delay under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116. After discovery and before trial, Geico paid Nibert the $25,000 UIM coverage limit to settle the breach of contract claim.

A jury returned verdicts awarding Nibert $33,250 in noneconomic damages on her bad faith claim and $25,000 for her statutory delay claim. The trial court entered judgment on the jury’s verdict for the bad faith claim and judgment of $50,000 for damages on the statutory delay claim. It also granted Nibert’s motion for attorney fees in the amount of $118,875.30.

On appeal, Geico argued that the trial court failed to adequately instruct the jury on its theory of defense that challenges to debatable claims are reasonable. The trial court relied on the Colorado pattern jury instructions governing common law bad faith and first-party statutory claims. While it did not accept Geico’s tendered instructions on these issues, it allowed Geico to present expert testimony regarding the “fairly debatable” issue and to argue its theory of defense to the jury. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the instructions, as given, adequately instructed the jury on the applicable law and the parties were afforded ample opportunity to present their case theories to the jury. The trial court’s ruling was neither manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair, nor a misapplication of the law.

Geico then argued that the trial court erred in awarding Nibert recovery of two times her UIM benefit as a penalty. C.R.S. § 10-3-1116(1) provides a first-party claimant the right to bring an action for “two times the covered benefit.” Geico argued that the trial court should have allowed a setoff of the ultimate statutory damages award in the amount of $25,000 previously paid to Nibert on her UIM claim. The court agreed with other divisions that have concluded that a statutory damages award of two times a delayed benefit—even when that benefit has already been paid, resulting in an effective payment of three times the contracted benefit—is contemplated by the plain meaning of C.R.S. § 10-3-1116.

Geico also contended it was error to award attorney fees incurred to prosecute the common law bad faith and statutory delay claims, both before and after the date when payment of the UIM benefit was delayed. They argued the attorney fees should be limited to the period from the date the benefit was first delayed to the date the benefit was actually paid. The court found no support for Geico’s argument that the section does not contemplate an award of attorney fees incurred litigating anything other than a contractual claim or incurred for the time before and after a delayed benefit accrues and is paid.

The court also granted Nibert’s request for an award of her appellate attorney fees.

The judgment and order were affirmed, and the case was remanded for a determination of the amount of reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Tractor is Motor Vehicle for Underinsured Motorist Coverage Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Smith v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Insurance—Covered Motor Vehicle—Underinsured Motorist Provision—Farm Tractor.

Bunker was driving a farm tractor when he collided with Smith’s truck. The hay spears attached to the tractor pierced the truck and impaled Smith, leaving him severely injured. Bunker pleaded guilty to careless driving, and Smith settled his claim against Bunker for Bunker’s liability policy limits. Because this settlement did not fully compensate Smith for his injuries, he filed a claim for underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm). State Farm denied coverage on the basis that a farm tractor is not a motor vehicle. Smith sued and the district court dismissed the complaint, finding that the tractor was not a covered motor vehicle for purposes of the UIM coverage policy.

On appeal, Smith contended that his policy’s property damage coverage section definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” is included in the UIM coverage provision. The Colorado Court of Appeals declined to extend the “uninsured motor vehicle” definition found only in the property damage coverage provision beyond that provision.

Smith next contended that the plain and ordinary meaning of “motor vehicle” includes the tractor. The court determined that the plain and ordinary meaning is an automotive vehicle not operated on rails and one with rubber tires for use on highways. Applying this definition, the court found that the tractor had wheels and its own motor, was not operated on rails, and was designed for use on streets and highways. Therefore, it was a covered motor vehicle under Smith’s UIM coverage provision.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Terms of Settlement Offer were Valid and Enforceable When Accepted

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kovac v. Farmers Insurance Exchange on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Personal Injury—Underinsured Motorist—Statute of Limitations—Summary Judgment.

Kovac was seriously injured in a car accident with Filipelli. It was undisputed that Filipelli was at fault. Kovac’s medical expenses exceeded $1.4 million. Filipelli was covered by Shelter Insurance Company (Shelter) with a liability limit of $100,000. Kovac was insured under two different automobile policies with Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers).

Kovac settled with Shelter for its policy limits. Later, Farmers offered to settle Kovac’s remaining claims for $80,000, but the parties could not reach a settlement. Kovac sued Farmers on April 3, 2015 for recovery of UIM benefits, tortious bad faith breach of contract, and unreasonable delay and denial of insurance benefits. Farmers moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the Shelter settlement check was tendered to Kovac’s attorney on April 2, 2013 and the statute of limitations therefore ran on April 2, 2015. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit.

On appeal, Kovac argued that although her attorney received the check and settlement offer on April 2, it was not accepted until April 5 when the release was signed and the check endorsed. Therefore, the statute of limitations ran on April 5, 2015 and her complaint was timely filed on April 3, 2015. C.R.S. § 13-80-107.5(b) provides that the statute of limitations runs two years from the date when the insured “received payment of the settlement” on the underlying bodily injury claim. The court of appeals determined that Kovac released her claims against Filipelli on April 5, 2013.  Therefore the statute of limitations had not run when she filed her complaint against Farmers.

The summary judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney’s Prelitigation Statements Must Be Made in Good Faith to Qualify as Privileged

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Begley v. Ireson on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Belinda Begley and Robert Hirsch, and their joint revocable trust (collectively, plaintiffs), purchased a property in Denver with the intent of demolishing the existing house and building a new house. Their architect’s plans were approved by the City & County of Denver, and plaintiffs contracted with a builder to begin demolition in anticipation of construction. The builder demolished the old house and began the shoring work for the new house. The neighbors, Ireson and Hoeckele, along with their attorney, Gibbs (collectively, defendants), made several threatening statements to the builder, which caused him to cease work and breach his contract with plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants, alleging intentional interference with a contract and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations. Several days later, defendants filed suit against plaintiffs, and moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) for failure to state a claim, arguing that their allegedly tortious statements were made in anticipation of litigation and were therefore protected. The district court apparently took judicial notice of defendants’ suit and granted their C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) motion. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first noted that motions to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) are viewed with disfavor. The district court had ruled that the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to state a claim because there was no allegation that the statements by Hoeckele, Ireson, and Gibbs caused the builder to breach his contract. The court of appeals found this was error. The complaint alleged with specificity several incidents in which Ireson, Hoeckele, and Gibbs interfered with the construction contract, and the court held that nothing more was required to survive the motion to dismiss. The court reversed the district court’s grant of defendants’ motion.

The district court next ruled that because Gibbs’ statements and communications to the builder were made while he was representing Ireson and Hoeckele and were “in anticipation and in furtherance of litigation,” they were absolutely privileged against the torts that plaintiffs alleged. The court of appeals again found that this ruling was in error. The court analyzed several state appellate court decisions, as well as section 586 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, and determined that prelitigation statements must be made in good faith to be privileged. Because the district court made no finding as to whether Gibbs’ statements were made in good faith, the court of appeals reversed and remanded.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s rulings and remanded for further proceedings.