Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
by
The plaintiff in this product liability case obtained a money judgment to compensate him for personal injuries he sustained in a car accident. The judgment debtor, the manufacturer of plaintiff’s car, appealed, and a division of the court of appeals reversed the judgment. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the division’s judgment on different grounds and remanded the matter for a new trial. On remand, plaintiff prevailed again, obtaining a new money judgment. The parties agreed that the nine percent interest rate applied from the date of the accident until the date of the appealed judgment (the first judgment). But the parties disagreed on the applicable interest rate between entry of that judgment and satisfaction of the final judgment (the second judgment). The Colorado Supreme Court held that whenever the judgment debtor appeals the judgment, the interest rate switches from nine percent to a market-based rate. "The outcome of the appeal is of no consequence; the filing of any appeal of the judgment by the judgment debtor triggers the shift in interest rate." Further, the Court held that the market-based postjudgment interest on the sum to be paid had to be calculated from the date of the appealed judgment. Thus, the market-based postjudgment interest rate applied from the date of the appealed judgment (the first judgment) through the date the final judgment (the second judgment) is satisfied. View "Ford Motor Company v. Walker" on Justia Law

by
After tripping over a deviation in a sidewalk in the City of Boulder (“City”), Joy Maphis sued the City for her injuries under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”). The City moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that it was immune from suit as the sidewalk did not constitute a “dangerous condition” under section 24-10-106(1)(d)(1), C.R.S. (2021), of the CGIA. The district court denied the City’s motion based on its finding that the deviation was “difficult to detect” and was larger than what the City classified as a “hazard” warranting repair. The City appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the undisputed evidence failed to establish that the sidewalk presented the type of dangerous condition for which the City had waived its immunity from suit. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that Maphis failed to establish a waiver of immunity. Reviewing de novo the legal question of whether the sidewalk constituted a dangerous condition under the CGIA, the Court held that Maphis’s evidence did not establish that the sidewalk deviation presented a risk that “exceeded the bounds of reason.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals and held that the City retained its immunity from suit under the CGIA. View "Maphis v. City of Boulder" on Justia Law

by
In August 2016, Plaintiff Maribel Ronquillo was in an automobile collision. According to her complaint, Ronquillo was rear-ended by defendant Jesse Williams, who was operating a vehicle owned by an EcoClean employee and towing an EcoClean trailer. Ronquillo suffered serious physical injuries and incurred around $250,000 in medical expenses. At the time of the accident, Ronquillo did not have health insurance, so she entered into a medical finance lien agreement with Injury Finance. Under the terms of that agreement, Injury Finance purchased Ronquillo’s accounts receivable from her healthcare providers at a predetermined, discounted contractual rate, which allowed Ronquillo to receive prompt medical care. Ronquillo remained contractually obligated to repay Injury Finance for “all charges billed by the [medical] [p]roviders” regardless of the result of any litigation. Ronquillo and her husband filed suit alleging negligence and loss of consortium against Williams and asserting a respondeat superior claim against EcoClean. As part of discovery, Defendants subpoenaed Injury Finance, seeking information and documents pertaining to Injury Finance’s accounts receivable purchase rates, provider contracts, and business operations and methodologies. When Injury Finance did not respond to the subpoena, Defendants filed a motion to compel production, which the district court granted. Defendants also filed a “motion for determination of a question of law pursuant to C.R.C.P. 56(h) that Injury Finance . . . is not a collateral source[]” subject to the pre-verdict evidentiary component of the collateral source rule. This interlocutory appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court raised the narrow question of whether a medical finance company was a collateral source for purposes of the pre-verdict evidentiary component of Colorado’s collateral source rule. The Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Injury Finance was not a collateral source, "Collateral sources must confer a 'benefit,' as defined in section 10-1-135(2)(a), C.R.S. (2021), onto the injured party. ... Ronquillo has not received a benefit from Injury Finance for purposes of the collateral source rule because her arrangement with Injury Finance does not reduce her financial obligations." The Court expressed no opinion on whether the disputed evidence could be excluded under other evidentiary rules such as CRE 401 and 403. View "Ronquillo v. EcoClean" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Alexander Rudnicki suffered serious injuries when OB-GYN Peter Bianco, D.O., negligently performed an operative vaginal delivery using a vacuum extractor to assist in the delivery. Alexander suffered injuries to his brain as a result of the trauma to his scalp and skull caused by the vacuum extraction. Alexander required ongoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy; he was intellectually disabled and enrolled in special education at school; and he was not likely to be able to live independently in the future. In 2014, Alexander’s parents, Francis and Pamela Rudnicki, in both their individual capacities and as parents, filed a complaint against Dr. Bianco and the hospital where Alexander was born, alleging, among other things, professional negligence by Dr. Bianco. Dr. Bianco moved to dismiss, asserting that Alexander’s parents did not bring their individual claims against him within the applicable statute of limitations. The district court agreed and dismissed the parents' individual claims, and the case proceeded to trial with Alexander as the sole plaintiff. A jury ultimately found Dr. Bianco had acted negligently and awarded Alexander damages, including, among other things, sums for past and future medical expenses until Alexander reached the age of twenty-two. Dr. Bianco filed a post-trial motion to reduce this verdict, arguing that under Colorado common law, only Alexander’s parents could recover Alexander’s pre-majority medical expenses and, therefore, the court was required to deduct from the verdict the medical expenses incurred prior to Alexander’s eighteenth birthday. The district court ultimately agreed with Dr. Bianco and vacated the entirety of the jury’s award for past medical expenses, as well as sixty percent of the award for future medical expenses, concluding that the claim for pre-majority medical expenses belonged solely to Alexander’s parents, but their claim for such expenses had been dismissed as time-barred. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether to adhere to a common law rule under which only a minor plaintiff’s parents may recover tort damages for medical expenses incurred by their unemancipated minor child. The Supreme Court concluded the traditional rationales for the common law rule no longer applied, and that "the realities of today’s health care economy compel us to abandon that rule. Accordingly, we conclude that in cases involving an unemancipated minor child, either the child or their parents may recover the child’s pre-majority medical expenses, but double recovery is not permitted." View "Rudnicki v. Bianco" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the “McHaffie Rule” applied even where the plaintiff chooses not to assert vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence and, instead, asserts only direct negligence claims against the employer. Here, Erica Murphy Brown and Steven Brown (collectively, “Brown”) sued Denver Center for Birth and Wellness (“DCBW”) for negligence and negligent hiring. Brown also sued Shari Long Romero, a DCBW employee and certified nurse-midwife, for wrongful death. The suit arose from the death of Brown’s child during labor at DCBW. After acknowledging vicarious liability for Long Romero’s negligence - by admitting, in its Answer, that Long Romero’s alleged acts and omissions occurred within the course and scope of her employment - DCBW moved for partial judgment on the pleadings under C.R.C.P. 12(c) on Brown’s negligent hiring claim. The trial court, citing the McHaffie Rule, granted DCBW’s motion and dismissed Brown’s negligent hiring claim—even though Brown had chosen not to assert vicarious liability for Long Romero’s negligence. The Supreme Court held that a plaintiff’s direct negligence claims against an employer are not barred where the plaintiff does not assert vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence. Thus, the trial court erred in granting DCBW’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and dismissing Brown’s negligent hiring claim. The Court vacated the trial court's grant of partial judgment on the pleadings, and remanded with directions to reinstate Brown's negligent hiring claim. View "Brown v. Long Romero" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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