Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Dami Hospitality, LLC (“Dami”) was the owner-operator of a Denver motel that employed between four and ten people at any given time. As an employer of three or more persons, Dami was required by statute to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. Dami allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse on in 2005. Upon receiving notification of the lapse from the Division of Workers’ Compensation (“DWC”), Dami conceded the violation and paid a corresponding settlement in June 2006. Dami again allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse in 2006. From June 2007 to September 2010, Dami carried the proper insurance, but the company’s workers’ compensation coverage again lapsed on September 12, 2010 and went without insurance until July 9, 2014. On February 19, 2014, the DWC discovered that Dami had allowed its workers’ compensation insurance to lapse for these periods of time and issued a notice to Dami regarding this. Dami faxed a copy of workers' compensation insurance for the July 10, 2014 - July 10, 2015 period; Dami offered no such evidence for any other period, nor any explanation for the lapses. Fines accrued for noncompliance, totaling $841,200. The DWC ultimately issued an order upholding the fines. Dami appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”). The ICAO rejected all but Dami’s excessive fines argument. The ICAO remanded the matter to the DWC, directing it to review the constitutionality of the aggregated per diem fines assessed in accordance with the test established by the court of appeals in Associated Business Products v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 126 P.3d 323 (Colo. App. 2005). The ICAO would ultimately affirm the resulting fines, and Dami appealed to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court set aside the fines, assuming, without deciding, the Excessive Fines Clause could be applied to challenge regulatory fees imposed on a corporation. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the proper test to assess the constitutionality of government fines under the Eighth Amendment required an assessment of whether the fine was grossly disproportional to the offense for which it was imposed. The Supreme Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ ruling and remanded to that court for return to the Division of Workers’ Compensation with instructions to, as appropriate and necessary, develop an evidentiary record sufficient to determine whether the $250–$500 fine that a business was required to pay for each day that it was out of compliance with Colorado’s workers’ compensation law is proportional to the harm or risk of harm caused by each day of noncompliance. View "Colo. Dept. of Labor & Emp. Div. of Workers' Comp. v. Dami Hosp." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review were the insurance proceeds owed to petitioners Rosalin Rogers and Mark Thompson because of a failed property investment orchestrated by their broker-dealer, United Securities Alliance. Ten years into litigation, the issue of the amount of debt at issue has remained at issue, and unresolvable by the courts. United's insurer, Catlin Insurance, was ordered to pay petitioners under a professional liability policy; an appellate court upheld a district court's determination of attorney fees and costs that Catlin could deduct from the liability limit under the policy. The Supreme Court first addressed whether the "Thompson IV" division erred when it upheld the district court’s decision to consider new evidence on remand from Thompson v. United Securities Alliance, Inc. (Thompson III), No. 13CA2037, (Colo. App. Oct. 16, 2014). And Secondly, the Supreme Court addressed whether the Thompson IV division erred when it held that there was no legal basis for awarding prejudgment interest in a garnishment proceeding. As to the first issue, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals; as to the second, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Thompson v. Catlin" 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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At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was the issue of whether an insured was entitled to collect prejudgment interest when he settles an uninsured motorist claim (“UM claim”) with his insurer in lieu of filing a lawsuit and proceeding to judgment. The Court held that under the plain language of the prejudgment interest statute, 13-21-101, C.R.S (2017), an insured is entitled to prejudgment interest only after: (1) an action is brought; (2) the plaintiff claims damages and interest in the complaint; (3) there is a finding of damages by a jury or court; and (4) judgment is entered. Because the plaintiff in this case did not meet all of these conditions, he was not entitled to prejudgment interest. View "Munoz v. Am. Fam. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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This case concerned a discovery dispute arising out of an automobile accident in which Gary Griggs, a driver insured by State Farm, injured Susan Goddard and several others. State Farm sought a declaratory judgment that Griggs breached the contractual duties set forth in his insurance policy by executing a settlement agreement pursuant to Nunn v. Mid-Century Insurance Co., 244 P.3d 116 (Colo. 2010), in which he waived a jury trial, consented to arbitration, and assigned to Goddard any rights that he had against State Farm. Goddard counterclaimed, asserting, among other things, that State Farm acted in bad faith by refusing both to settle her claims against Griggs and to indemnify Griggs for the judgment entered against him after the arbitration to which Griggs had consented. The district court determined State Farm impliedly waived the attorney-client privilege protecting communications between it and its former counsel when it submitted an affidavit from that former counsel to rebut allegations of discovery misconduct. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded after review that the attorney affidavit submitted in this case did not place any privileged communications at issue. Accordingly, the district court erred in finding that State Farm impliedly waived its attorney-client privilege. View "State Farm v. Griggs" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of Colorado certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The question asked for an interpretation of the meaning of the words “suicide, sane or insane,” when used in life insurance policies. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, under Colorado law, a life insurance policy exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” excluded coverage only if the insured, whether sane or insane at the time, committed an act of self-destruction with the intent to kill himself. View "Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado certified a question of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court regarding the statute of limitations applicable to section 10-3-1116, C.R.S. (2017), which governed claims for unreasonable delay or denial of insurance benefits. Specifically, the question centered on whether a claim brought pursuant to Colorado Revised Statutes section 10-3-1116 was subject to the one-year statute of limitations found in Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-103(1)(d) and applicable to “[a]ll actions for any penalty or forfeiture of any penal statutes.” The Supreme Court held the one-year statute of limitations found in section 13-80-103(1)(d), C.R.S. (2017), did not apply to an action brought under section 10-3-1116(1) because section 10-3-1116(1) was not an “action[] for any penalty or forfeiture of any penal statute[]” within the meaning of section 13-80-103(1)(d). Therefore, the Court answered the certified question in the negative. View "Rooftop Restoration, Inc. v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Nine days after the jury returned its verdict, but before the trial court reduced that verdict to a written and signed judgment, Michael Casper died. Consequently, the defendant, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (“GTL”), moved to substantially reduce the verdict, arguing that the survival statute barred certain damages under the policy that insured Casper. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted GTL’s petition to review the court of appeals’ decision, and concluded that the survival statute did not limit the jury’s verdict in favor of Casper. The Court also concluded that an award of attorney fees and costs under section 10-3-1116(1) was a component of the “actual damages” of a successful claim under that section. Finally, the Court concluded that although the survival statute did not limit the damages awarded by the jury, the trial court abused its discretion by entering a final judgment on October 30, 2014, nunc pro tunc to July 15, 2014. View "Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co. v. Estate of Casper" on Justia Law

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In 2009, a fire started in an apartment building owned by respondents Guillermo and Evelia Barriga and insured by petitioner American Family Mutual Insurance Company (“American Family”). American Family made various payments to the and on behalf of the Barrigas, totaling $209,816.43. However, after a substantial amount of repair work had been completed, the contractor revised its estimate for the cost of the repairs. The revised estimate was higher than American Family’s initial estimate, primarily because of the need for additional repairs and asbestos remediation. In response, American Family initiated a third-party appraisal process outlined in the insurance policy intended to provide an impartial assessment of the needed repair costs. The appraiser fixed the award at $322,141.79. American Family then paid that award, less the $209,816.43 that had been previously paid to the Barrigas, resulting in a payment of $122,325.36. American Family also made an additional payment of $5435.44 for emergency board-up services. The Barrigas sued American Family for breach of contract, common law bad-faith breach of insurance contract, and unreasonable delay and denial of insurance benefits under section 10-3-1116(1), C.R.S. (2017). The jury found for the Barrigas on all claims, awarding damages, as relevant here, of $9270 for breach of contract and $136,930.80 for benefits unreasonably delayed or denied. The issue raised on appeal for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether an award of damages under section 10-3-1116(1), C.R.S. (2017), had to be reduced by an insurance benefit unreasonably delayed but ultimately recovered by an insured outside of a lawsuit. The Court held that an award under section 10-3-1116(1) must not be reduced by an amount unreasonably delayed but eventually paid by an insurer because the plain text of the statute provided no basis for such a reduction. The Court also concluded that a general rule against double recovery for a single harm did not prohibit a litigant from recovering under claims for both a violation of section 10-3- 1116(1) and breach of contract. View "Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Barriga" on Justia Law

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An underinsured motorist struck a car driven by Dale Fisher, causing Fisher injuries requiring over $60,000 in medical care. Fisher was not at fault, and he was covered under multiple State Farm underinsured motorist (“UIM”) insurance policies. State Farm agreed that Fisher’s medical bills were covered under the UIM policies, but it disputed other amounts Fisher sought under the policies, including lost wages. So, State Farm refused to pay Fisher’s medical bills without first resolving his entire claim. Fisher sued, alleging State Farm had unreasonably delayed paying his medical expenses. In response, State Farm argued it had no duty to make piecemeal payments, even for Fisher’s undisputed medical expenses, when it disputed the rest of Fisher’s UIM claim. A jury returned a verdict in Fisher’s favor, finding that State Farm had violated section 10-3-1115, C.R.S. (2017), which provides that an insurer “shall not unreasonably delay or deny payment of a claim for benefits owed to or on behalf of any first-party [insured] claimant.” A division of the court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether auto insurers have a duty to pay undisputed portions of a UIM claim (like the medical expenses at issue here) even though other portions of the claim remain disputed. The Court held that insurers have a duty not to unreasonably delay or deny payment of covered benefits, even though other components of an insured’s claim may still be reasonably in dispute. Thus, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "State Farm v. Fisher" on Justia Law