Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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In December 2015, Joseph Gill was injured in an on-the-job car accident when he was struck by a truck owned by Swift Transportation Company, LLC (“Swift”), driven by Christopher Waltz. As a result of the injuries he suffered in the accident, Gill obtained workers’ compensation benefits through Pinnacol Assurance (“Pinnacol”) to cover his medical expenses. Gill’s medical providers produced bills totaling $627,809.76 for the services he received. However, because Colorado’s workers’ compensation scheme caps the amount that medical providers can charge, Pinnacol satisfied all of Gill’s past medical expenses for significantly less. Pinnacol then pursued, and ultimately settled, its subrogation claim with Swift. Gill and his wife subsequently sued Swift and Waltz for damages resulting from the accident, and the case was removed from state court to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Swift sought partial summary judgment , relying on case law which, in applying Colorado’s workers’ compensation law, concluded that an injured employee lacked standing to pursue damages for services that were covered by workers’ compensation after the insurer had settled its subrogated claims with the third-party tortfeasor. While the federal district court was considering Swift’s motion, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Scholle v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 2019 COA 81M, in which a divided court disagreed with the case law. Instead, it determined that a plaintiff-employee could seek damages for medical services covered by workers’ compensation insurance if the billed amounts were higher than the paid amounts, even after the insurer had settled its subrogation claim. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding that a settlement between a workers’ compensation insurer and a third-party tortfeasor for all past medical expenses paid as a result of an on-the-job injury extinguished the plaintiff-employee’s claim to recover damages for those past medical expenses from the third-party tortfeasor. "As a result, while Joseph Gill may still pursue his claims for noneconomic damages and any economic damages not covered by his workers’ compensation insurer, he no longer has any claim to recover economic damages based on services paid for by workers’ compensation. There is consequently no reason to present evidence of either the amounts billed or the amounts paid for those services, and the collateral source rule is not implicated in this case." View "Gill v. Waltz" on Justia Law

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William Scholle worked for United Airlines, Inc., driving luggage tugs from the terminal to waiting planes, loading or unloading the bags, and returning to the terminal. In June 2012, Scholle was stopped at a stop sign on a return trip to the terminal when he was rear-ended by Daniel Moody, an employee of Delta Air Lines, Inc. Scholle applied for and received workers’ compensation insurance benefits from United, a self-insured employer. United covered all medical expenses resulting from Scholle’s on-the-job injuries, as well as a portion of his lost wages. Scholle’s medical providers produced bills for the services he received that reflected costs in excess of what is permitted by the workers’ compensation fee schedule, though they never tried to collect amounts beyond those permitted by statute. United exercised its subrogation right and sued Delta and Moody to recover the payments it made to and on behalf of Scholle. Scholle separately sued Delta and Moody for negligence, seeking to recover compensation for damages as a result of the collision. Eventually, Delta settled United’s subrogation claim; Scholle’s claims against Moody were later dismissed, leaving only Scholle and Delta as parties. Delta admitted liability for the accident, and the case went to trial on damages. In pretrial motions in limine, Scholle argued that the collateral source rule should preclude Delta from admitting evidence of the amount paid by Scholle’s workers’ compensation insurance to cover the medical expenses arising from his injuries. Instead, Scholle contended, the higher amounts billed by his medical providers reflected the true reasonable value of the medical services provided to him and should have been admissible at trial. The trial court disagreed, reasoning that when Delta settled with United, it effectively paid Scholle’s medical expenses, such that amounts paid for those expenses were no longer payments by a collateral source. The court further noted that, under the workers’ compensation statute, any amount billed for medical treatment in excess of the statutory fee schedule was “unlawful,” “void,” and “unenforceable.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when, as here, a workers’ compensation insurer settles its subrogation claim for reimbursement of medical expenses with a third-party tortfeasor, the injured employee’s claim for past medical expenses is extinguished completely. "Because the injured employee need not present evidence of either billed or paid medical expenses in the absence of a viable claim for such expenses, the collateral source rule is not implicated under these circumstances. The court of appeals therefore erred in remanding for a new trial on medical expenses based on a perceived misapplication of that rule." View "Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Scholle" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether an injured passenger riding in a vehicle negligently driven by one co-worker and owned by another co-worker, when all three were acting within the course and scope of their employment, could recover UM/UIM benefits under the vehicle owner’s insurance policy. Although the parties disputed the meaning of the phrases “legally entitled to recover” and “legally entitled to collect” under section 10-4-609, C.R.S. (2020) the Court did not resolve that dispute here because, assuming without deciding that plaintiff Kent Ryser’s interpretation was correct, the Court concluded that he still could not prevail. Specifically, the Court found an injured co-worker was barred by operation of the Workers’ Compensation Act's (“WCA”) exclusivity and co-employee immunity principles from recovering UM/UIM benefits from a co-employee vehicle owner’s insurer for damages stemming from a work-related accident in which another co-employee negligently drove the owner’s vehicle and the injured party was an authorized passenger. Though the Court's reasoning differed from the appellate court's judgment, it affirmed the outcome: summary judgment was properly entered in favor of the insurance company. View "Ryser v. Shelter Mutual Insurance" on Justia Law

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A driver for Colorado Cab Company LLC (“Colorado Cab”) picked up an intoxicated Curt Glinton and one of Glinton’s friends. After stopping at their destination, the driver told Glinton the total fare. Glinton became upset, started yelling at the driver, and eventually grabbed and punched the driver from behind. Meanwhile, Jose Garcia had called a cab from a house nearby. When he saw the cab occupied by Glinton drive by, he thought that it might be the cab he had called, and he began to follow it. When he was roughly a block away from the cab, he heard the driver screaming for help. Garcia ran to the cab and, through the cab’s open driver’s-side door, told Glinton to stop. Glinton shifted his aggression to Garcia, telling him to “mind his own business.” This gave the driver the chance to exit the vehicle. Glinton also exited the vehicle, escalated his aggression toward Garcia, and began to throw punches at Garcia. Garcia was then hit over the head, causing him to fall to the ground. Glinton then entered the driver’s seat of the still-running cab and started driving. He hit the still-down Garcia once with the cab, then backed up and again ran Garcia over. As a result, Garcia suffered several severe injuries. Garcia filed a negligence action against Colorado Cab, arguing that Colorado Cab had knowledge of forty-four passenger attacks on its drivers in the previous three years but had failed to install partitions or security cameras in its cabs. In asserting his claim, Garcia relied on the rescue doctrine. Colorado Cab countered that it owed no duty to Garcia to prevent intentional criminal acts, and that even if it was negligent, Garcia was comparatively negligent because he “[made] a decision to get involved in the situation.” The jury found for Garcia and awarded him $1.6 million in total damages. It allocated 45% of the fault to Colorado Cab (for a sum of roughly $720,000), 55% to Glinton, and 0% to Garcia. The trial court denied Colorado Cab's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court held that for a person to qualify as a rescuer under the rescue doctrine, he must satisfy a three-pronged test: plaintiff must have (1) intended to aid or rescue a person whom he, (2) reasonably believed was in imminent peril, and (3) acted in such a way that could have reasonably succeeded or did succeed in preventing or alleviating such peril. The Supreme Court concluded that, on the facts of this case, Garcia satisfied this test at trial. View "Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co." on Justia Law

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This case arose from the 2015 mass shooting at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ (“PPRM’s”) Colorado Springs facility, which left three people dead and nine seriously injured. The issue narrowed for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether plaintiffs introduced sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Robert Dear’s conduct as the shooter was the “predominant cause” of plaintiffs’ injuries such that PPRM’s conduct, even if it contributed to such injuries, could not be a substantial factor in causing them. Further, the Court was asked to address whether the plaintiffs established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether PPRM’s parent organization, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (“PPFA”), owed them a duty of care. The Court concluded plaintiffs indeed presented sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Dear’s conduct was the predominant cause of their injuries; and as a matter of law, plaintiffs did not establish that PPFA owed them a legal duty. The Court affirmed judgment of the appellate court. View "Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, Inc. v. Wagner" on Justia Law

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Susan Burren was injured at work, and she received temporary workers’ compensation benefits after her employer admitted liability. Many months passed, with many efforts to treat her injuries, but none of her authorized treating physicians (“ATPs”) placed her at “Maximum medical improvement” (“MMI”). Her employer and her employer’s insurer sought a second opinion regarding Burren’s MMI status, and Burren subsequently underwent a Division Independent Medical Examination (“DIME”). The DIME doctor who examined Burren also declined to place her at MMI. The employer and insurer then challenged the DIME doctor’s opinion under section 8-42-107(8)(b)(III), C.R.S. (2019), of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“Act”). An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) concluded that the employer and insurer had overcome the DIME doctor’s finding. The ALJ then placed Burren at MMI with a finding of no permanent impairment, making Burren ineligible to receive permanent disability benefits. An administrative panel agreed with the ALJ. Burren appealed. A division of the court of appeals concluded that the ALJ had no authority to place Burren at MMI. Instead, Burren should have been allowed to resume treatment with her ATPs until either an ATP or a DIME doctor placed her at MMI. The employer and its insurer petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for review, and the Supreme Court reversed: once an ALJ concludes that an employer or an employer’s insurer has overcome a DIME doctor’s MMI opinion under section 8-42-107(8)(b)(III), the ALJ may determine the claimant’s MMI status and permanent impairment rating as questions of fact. View "Destination Maternity v. Burren" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Della Gallegos had to undergo three cranial surgeries after her radiologist, Dr. Steven Hughes, failed to detect an obvious brain tumor on an MRI scan three years earlier. Had Dr. Hughes discovered the tumor in 2006, Gallegos could have treated it with cheaper, and less invasive, radiosurgery. The highly invasive cranial surgeries damaged Gallegos’s vision, hearing, and memory. Gallegos retained attorney Patric LeHouillier to sue Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. But LeHouillier later decided not to proceed with the suit, concluding it did not make economic sense. He and Gallegos disagreed over whether he actually informed her of this decision, and the statute of limitations lapsed on the claims Gallegos could have brought against Dr. Hughes. Gallegos thereafter brought this attorney malpractice case against LeHouillier and his firm, claiming that LeHouillier’s negligence prevented her from successfully suing Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. The question before the Colorado Supreme Court involved who bore the burden to prove that any judgment that could have been obtained against Dr. Hughes would have been collectible. The Supreme Court concluded that because the collectibility of the underlying judgment was essential to the causation and damages elements of a client’s negligence claim against an attorney, it held the client-plaintiff bore the burden of proving that the lost judgment in the underlying case was collectible. Here, the record reflected Gallegos failed to present sufficient evidence of collectibility. However, given the absence of a clear statement from the Supreme Court regarding plaintiff's burden to prove collectibility at the time of trial, and because the issue was not raised in this case until after Gallegos had presented her case-in-chief, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a new trial. View "LeHouillier v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-petitioner Charissa Schultz was injured in a 2015 car accident in which the other driver failed to stop at a stop sign. The other driver’s insurance company settled for its $25,000 policy limit, and Schultz made a demand on her own uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under her GEICO policy, which also had a $25,000 limit. In April 2017, after months of correspondence and apparent review of an MRI performed on Schultz in April 2015, GEICO offered Schultz its full policy limit, and it did so without requesting that she undergo an independent medical examination (“IME”). Indeed, GEICO’s claim logs reveal that at the time GEICO decided to offer Schultz its policy limits, it “concede[d] peer review wouldn’t be necessary,” indicating an affirmative decision not to request an IME. A few months later, Schultz filed the present lawsuit asserting claims for bad faith breach of an insurance contract and unreasonable delay in the payment of covered benefits. GEICO denied liability, disputing the extent and cause of Schultz’s claimed injuries and asserting that causation surrounding the knee replacement surgeries was “fairly debatable” because Schultz had preexisting arthritis, which GEICO claimed may independently have necessitated her surgeries. To establish its defense, GEICO ordered the IME and the district court granted that request. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded GEICO’s conduct had to be evaluated based on the evidence before it when it made its coverage decision and that, therefore, GEICO was not entitled to create new evidence in order to try to support its earlier coverage decision. The Court also concluded the district court abused its discretion when it ordered Schultz to undergo an IME over three years after the original accident that precipitated this case and a year and a half after GEICO had made the coverage decision at issue. View "Schultz v. GEICO Casualty Company" on Justia Law

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Alexander Clark brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the estate of his late pain management specialist, Dr. Daniel Brookoff. Clark claimed Dr. Brookoff negligently prescribed a prolonged course of drugs to alleviate Clark’s chronic pain and that Dr. Brookoff did not adequately inform his patient (then a minor) of the risks associated with the drug. Clark claimed that his consumption of the drug caused neurological and urological damage. Prior to trial, Clark indicated that he intended to present testimony about conversations he and his mother had with Dr. Brookoff prior to and during treatment. The Estate responded by filing a motion to exclude such evidence in accordance with Colorado’s Dead Man’s Statute. The trial court agreed that the anticipated testimony was inadmissible. Unable to introduce that testimony, Clark abandoned his informed consent claim, and the case proceeded to trial on his negligence claim. After judgment was entered in favor of the Estate, Clark appealed the order prohibiting him or his mother from testifying about their conversations with Dr. Brookoff. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to bar this testimony and remanded the case for a new trial on Clark’s informed consent claim. In so doing, the appellate division relied on case law predating the 2002 and 2013 amendments to the Dead Man’s Statute to conclude that, despite its current language, the statute was not applicable “in any civil action” but only when the outcome of a proceeding will increase or diminish an estate. Because Dr. Brookoff had an insurance policy, the court of appeals reasoned that any liability would be covered by insurance and thus would not diminish his estate. The court therefore declined to apply the Dead Man’s Statute. Following denial of its petition for rehearing, the Estate petitioned for certiorari. The Colorado Supreme Court held the Dead Man’s Statute was applicable “in all civil actions.” Because the statute applied irrespective of the potential impact of a judgment on an estate, the Court also held the existence of insurance coverage was not a factor militating for or against the applicability of the Dead Man’s Statute. View "Estate of Daniel Brookoff, M.D., v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Albert Johnson sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing jury verdicts in his favor on personal injury claims against Ryan Schonlaw and VCG Restaurants of Denver, Inc. At the close of the case, the district court overruled the objections of Schonlaw and VCG to its announced decision to allow the alternate to deliberate to verdict with the other jurors. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in allowing an alternate juror to participate in jury deliberations over the objection of a party, and that the error gave rise to a presumption of prejudice, which remained unrebutted by Johnson, and therefore required reversal. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the error in this case did not affect the substantial rights of either Schonlaw or VCG, and it should have been disregarded as harmless, as required by C.R.C.P. 61. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Schonlaw" on Justia Law