September 25, 2018

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.

Tenth Circuit: Delay in Tendering Insurance Benefits Found Unreasonable

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Peden v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Wendy Peden was among a group of friends drinking and celebrating the birthday of Terrell Graf’s fiancee. Mr. Graf gathered the friends into the van he had purchased for his fiancee, drove away, and crashed. Ms. Peden suffered serious injuries. She obtained $240,000 in insurance benefits, but claimed more in underinsured motorist benefits. State Farm initially denied the claim, but ultimately paid her $350,000, the maximum amount available. Ms. Peden sued State Farm for bad faith under Colorado common law and statutory law.

Ms. Peden argued in her claim for uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits that she had seven forms of injury totaling from $647,484.76 to $1,115,504.76. Ms. Peden sought benefits from a State Farm policy carried by Mr. Graf’s fiancee and also from her own State Farm policy. State Farm denied the claim, stating that the $240,000 she had received had fairly compensated her. When Ms. Peden brought suit against State Farm, it investigated further and ultimately paid her the maximum amount allowable under the policies. Ms. Peden continued to claim that State Farm had unreasonably delayed payment of benefits. State Farm moved for summary judgment, arguing that the handling of the claim was reasonable as a matter of law. Ms. Peden moved for partial summary judgment on her statutory bad faith claim. The district court granted State Farm’s motion, and Ms. Peden appealed.

The Tenth Circuit found that under Colorado law, all insurance contracts contain an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, and that there is both a common law and statutory duty to handle claims in good faith. For an uninsured motorist claim involving a breach of the common law duty, the insured must prove that the insurer acted unreasonably under the circumstances and knowingly or recklessly disregarded the validity of the insured’s claim. A statutory claim includes a requirement that the insurer cannot “unreasonably delay or deny payment of a claim.” The Tenth Circuit examined industry standards and determined that State Farm had a duty to investigate the claim as diligently to prove its merit as it would to deny benefits, and had a duty to find all facts to try to understand the claimant’s medical condition. The Tenth Circuit found that in this case, State Farm had discredited Ms. Peden’s claim because she went for a ride with a drunk driver. Ms. Peden argued that she did not know Mr. Graf was drunk and she did not think he was going to drive the vehicle—she believed they were only getting in the van to take a group picture. State Farm did not interview Ms. Peden or otherwise investigate her story. The Tenth Circuit found that by failing to interview Ms. Peden, State Farm breached its duty.

The Tenth Circuit also found that State Farm unreasonably failed to investigate the total amount of damages before denying Ms. Peden’s claim. State Farm did not include any payment for future noneconomic damages, prejudgment interest, or wage loss in its initial valuation of the claim, and its tender of damages was between 24 and 42 percent of the amounts claimed by Ms. Peden. The Tenth Circuit found that a reasonable fact-finder could infer that State Farm failed to adequately investigate the damages that would have been available to Ms. Peden if she had sued Mr. Graf. The Tenth Circuit noted that State Farm could have consulted with a physician, asked Ms. Peden to submit to a physical examination, or interviewed her, and it did none of these things. The Tenth Circuit held that a fact-finder could question the reasonableness of this investigation.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to State Farm. The Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s denial of Ms. Peden’s partial summary judgment motion as moot, since it was no longer moot. The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court for further findings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Property Owner Is Not Liable Under PLA for Injuries Occurring on Sidewalk

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Andrade v. Johnson on Thursday, October 6, 2016.

Personal Injury—Summary Judgment—Premises Liability Statute—Negligence.

Andrade slipped and fell on the damaged public sidewalk adjacent to Johnson’s house and fractured her leg. Andrade filed a complaint against Johnson asserting premises liability and common law negligence claims. The district court granted Johnson’s motion for summary judgment on both claims.

On appeal, based on concessions in her opening brief, the court of appeals determined that Andrade did not contest entry of the summary judgment on the premises liability claim. Based on the undisputed fact that Andrade fell on a public sidewalk, the court concluded as a matter of law that Johnson was not a “landowner” for purposes of the premises liability statute, C.R.S. § 13-21-115 (the Act). Because Andrade’s injury did not occur on Johnson’s property, she had no claim under the Act, and the district court did not err in entering summary judgment on this claim.

Andrade also argued that the district court erred in entering summary judgment on the negligence claim, alleging Johnson had a duty to notify the city engineer about the damaged sidewalk and became liable for Andrade’s injury as a result of her failure to notify. The court considered whether the “no duty” rule was applicable and concluded that it was not because Colorado Springs City Code § 3.4.103(D) expressly provides for civil liability under the circumstances of this case. The court held that (1) the plain language of § 3.4.103(B) unambiguously imposes a duty on owners and occupants of real property to notify the city engineer about any damage to the public sidewalk abutting or adjacent to their property, and (2) this section expressly imposes liability on such owners or occupants when their failure to notify is the proximate cause of a third party’s injury. Because disputed issues of fact remain as to whether the public sidewalk was damaged and whether Johnson’s failure to report it was a proximate cause of Andrade’s injuries, the district court erred by entering summary judgment on this claim.

The summary judgment on the premises liability claim was affirmed. The summary judgment on the negligence claim was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Attorney Fee Award Appropriate Where Oil and Gas Well Sustained Physical Damage

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sundance Energy Oklahoma, LLC v. Dan D. Drilling Corp. on Friday, September 2, 2016.

Sundance contracted with Dan D. to drill several oil and gas wells, and used a standard International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) form for each individual well. Dan D. was unable to drill several of the wells because it could not acquire permits, so Sundance asked Dan D. to drill a different group of wells instead, including the Rother well, under the supervision of Tres Management. Although Dan D. did not have a contract, it began drilling the Rother well in December 2012 under the supervision of a Tres company man. Days later, Dan D.’s drill pipe became stuck in the hole. After several failed attempts to remove the pipe, the company man instructed the Dan D. employees to stop pulling on the pipe. A driller ignored the instructions and continued pulling on the pipe, causing the drilling line to break and throw debris, killing the driller. A medical examiner later determined the driller had substantial amounts of methamphetamine in his blood at the time of his death.

A subsequent OSHA investigation suspended all drilling at the Rother well, concluding that the drilling failure resulted from progressive fatigue on the drill line. OSHA issued a citation to Dan D. for failing to inspect and properly maintain the drill line. After the OSHA investigation concluded, Sundance attempted to fish out the stuck drill pipe, but the wellbore had deteriorated and the well was ultimately plugged and abandoned as a total loss.

Sundance sued Dan D. for damages, asserting that Dan D.’s negligence, gross negligence, and breach of implied contract to drill the well in a workmanlike manner resulted in the loss of the hole. Dan D. filed several motions in limine prior to trial, including objecting to the admission of the OSHA narratives and the medical examiner’s toxicology report. The district court denied the motion to suppress the toxicology report and partially denied the motion to suppress the OSHA reports, allowing only portions of the documents to be used. At trial, Sundance’s expert witness testified that Dan D.’s failure to log and track the ton miles of the drill line was “unheard of” in the industry, and that Dan D. should have slipped and cut the drill line to prevent the accident. Sundance relied on Dan D.’s gross negligence caused the line failure and the ultimate loss of the hole. Dan D. disagreed, arguing the fault should lie with Tres and the company man. Dan D. also argued that the IADC contract’s exculpatory provisions state that Sundance was liable for any loss or damage to the hole. Dan D. also asked the district court to instruct the jury that it should impute negligence to Tres, but the district court declined to do so. The district court instead instructed the jury that if it did not find Dan D. was grossly negligent, it should not consider whether an implied contract between the parties incorporated the IADC contract’s exculpatory provisions.

The jury returned a verdict for Sundance, finding Dan D. was grossly negligent and breached an implied contract to drill the well in a workmanlike manner. The jury attributed 75% of the loss to Dan D.’s negligence and 25% to Tres’ negligence, awarding Sundance $1.2 million in damages. Dan D. moved for a new trial under F.R.C.P. 59(a). The district court denied the motion and Dan D. appealed that order. Sundance then filed a motion for attorney fees, which the district court granted. Dan D. also appealed the attorney fee award. The appeals were consolidated.

Dan D. first argued the district court erred in instructing the jury that it need not consider whether the implied contract included the allocation of risk provisions if it found Dan D. grossly negligent, and refusing to impute Tres’ negligence to Sundance. The Tenth Circuit analyzed Dan D.’s claims for abuse of discretion and found none. The district court based its instruction regarding gross negligence on an Oklahoma Supreme Court case where a federal district court certified a question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding whether an exculpatory provision was valid and enforceable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it was not enforceable in cases involving, among other things, gross negligence. The Tenth Circuit approved of the district court’s reliance on this case and found no abuse of discretion.

Dan D. also argued the district court should have granted a new trial based on its refusal to give Dan D.’s proposed instructions on whether Sundance owed Dan D. a non-delegable duty. The Tenth Circuit found that even if it agreed with Dan D. that the district court erred by not giving the proposed instruction, the error did not prejudice Dan D. because the jury’s verdict for Sundance on the breach of implied contract claim independently supported the damages award. Accordingly, any imputation of negligence would not have affected the breach of contract award.

The Tenth Circuit also found no error in the district court’s admission of the toxicology report or OSHA narratives. Because Dan D. did not object to the admission of any other evidence, and other evidence showed Dan D.’s failures, Dan D. could not show prejudice by the admission of the toxicology report or OSHA narratives.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed Dan D.’s challenge to the attorney fee award. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 940(A), which provides for attorney fees to the prevailing party in any action related to the negligent or willful injury to property, and found the statute applicable in the instant action. The Tenth Circuit noted the physical deterioration of the Rother well during the 12-day OSHA investigation was precisely the type of injury contemplated under § 940(A). Because Sundance prevailed in the action regarding physical injury to a well, the attorney fee award was appropriate.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.