Colorado Supreme Court

Maphis v. City of Boulder-2022CO10 (2/22/22). The Supreme Court was asked to address the legal question of whether a sidewalk deviation constituted a “dangerous condition” under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (GIA). A dangerous condition is defined as an “unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public.” A finding of a dangerous condition would waive the immunity under the GIA. After tripping and falling over a two and-a-half-inch sidewalk deviation in the City of Boulder, the plaintiff sued the City for her injuries under the GIA. The City moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit, arguing that the sidewalk deviation did not constitute a “dangerous condition.” Applying the standard set forth in City and County of Denver v. Dennis, 2018 CO 37, 418 P.3d 489, to the undisputed facts of this case, the Supreme Court held that the sidewalk condition did not create a chance of injury, damage, or loss which exceeds the bounds of reason.

Colorado Court of Appeals

Salazar v. ICAOCourt of Appeals affirms no coverage for injuries sustained by claimant – 2022COA13 (01/20/22). James Salazar worked for Grand Valley Tree Service. In January 2020, he texted the company’s owner, Nathan Ridgley, to say that he intended to see a doctor because he woke up with back pain caused by picking up logs during work. Ridgley gave Salazar a list of medical providers as required under state workers’ compensation laws, and Salazar selected a doctor. Salazar’s wife drove him to the doctor. On their way there, the passenger side of the Salazars’ car “was T-boned by an elderly woman.” Despite the accident, they made it to the medical appointment. Salazar testified that after the crash, he experienced headaches, arm tingling, shoulder pain and neck and back pain. In February 2020, Grand Valley Tree Service and its insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, challenged Salazar’s workers’ compensation claims, arguing that he had a documented history of pre-existing chronic back pain. The company sent Salazar to Dr. Brian Reiss for an independent medical examination. Reiss concluded Salazar didn’t suffer an injury from picking up logs in January, and his pain was caused instead by his pre-existing condition. However, Reiss conceded that the car accident may have exacerbated his condition and caused him additional symptoms. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge dismissed Salazar’s request for benefits, finding that Reiss’ opinion was credible, and Salazar didn’t sustain a work-related injury. Relying on the quasi-course of employment doctrine, Salazar argued that the car crash injuries should be covered because he was on his way to see the workers’ compensation doctor. The ALJ disagreed, finding the quasi-course of employment doctrine only applies if there is first a compensable injury. Salazar appealed the decision, but the Industrial Claims Appeals Office upheld the ALJ’s decision. Salazar argued before the Court of Appeals that the ICAO and ALJ misapplied the law by concluding the car accident injuries were not covered. He also argued the ALJ and ICAO violated his right to equal protection by denying him coverage for the car accident injuries. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments and upheld the dismissal of his claims.

Pisano v. ManningCourt of Appeals interprets noneconomic damages statute exception as requiring ‘exceptional circumstances’ – 2022COA22 (02/17/22). A jury awarded plaintiff approximately $1.5 million in noneconomic damages incurred in connection with a traffic accident caused by defendant. The damages cap [section 13-21-102.5(3)(a)] states any award of noneconomic damages “shall not exceed” $468,010, unless the court “finds justification by clear and convincing evidence therefor,” in which case the court may award up to $936,030. Plaintiff argued she was entitled that the $936,030 amount. The trial court disagreed and the COA affirmed. Plaintiff’s argument was that the statute limits the trial court inquiry under the statute to determining whether the jury’s award of noneconomic damages was supported by clear and convincing evidence. In rejecting that argument, the division stated that what must be supported by clear and convincing evidence is the trial court’s justification for exceeding the statutory cap. In determining whether a justification exists, the court could properly consider whether plaintiff’s injuries amounted to “exceptional circumstances.” Here, however, the division concluded that the record supports the trial court’s determination that the circumstances of the case were not exceptional.

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals

Trial Lawyers College v. Gerry Spences Trial Lawyers, et al. – Lawyers fighting lawyers, pendent jurisdiction, mandatory as opposed to prohibitory injunctions… it’s all here! – Docket: 20-8038 (01/27/22). This appeal grew out of a dispute over a program (“The Trial Lawyers College”) to train trial lawyers. The College’s board of directors splintered into two factions, known as the “Spence Group” and the “Sloan Group.” The two groups sued each other: The Spence Group sued in state court for dissolution of the College and a declaratory judgment recognizing the Spence Group’s control of the Board; the Sloan Group then sued in federal court, claiming trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Both groups sought relief in the federal case. The federal district court decided both requests in favor of the Sloan Group: The court denied the Spence Group’s request for a stay and granted the Sloan Group’s request for a preliminary injunction. The Spence Group appealed both rulings. The Tenth Circuit determined it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of a stay, as after the Spence Group appealed the federal district court’s ruling, the state court resolved the dispute over Board control, rendering that part of the requested stay moot. The remainder of the federal district court’s ruling on a stay was determined not to constitute a reviewable final order. It did find that it had jurisdiction to review the grant of a preliminary injunction. In granting the preliminary injunction, the district court had found irreparable injury, restricting what the Spence Group could say about its own training program and ordering removal of sculptures bearing the College’s logo. The Spence Group challenged the finding of irreparable harm, the scope of the preliminary injunction, and the consideration of additional evidence after the evidentiary hearing. In the Tenth Circuit’s view, the district court had the discretion to consider the new evidence and grant a preliminary injunction. “But the court went too far by requiring the Spence Group to remove the sculptures.” The findings did not support a mandatory injunction, only a prohibitory stay. It reversed.

Eckard v. State Farm Mutual Automobile – Tenth Circuit adds to the question of when is a settlement a settlement – Docket: 21-1258 (02/11/22). This case arose from a claim for underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits by Plaintiff-Appellant Melinda Eckard (insured) against her insurer, Defendant-Appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm). On summary judgment, the district court held that Eckard’s suit was time barred by Section13-80-107.5(1)(b). The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding the district court granted summary judgment to State Farm because it incorrectly found as a matter of law that Eckard “received payment of the settlement” when her lawyer received the settlement agreement and check on October 11, 2019. It held that Eckard actually “received payment of the settlement” when she executed the settlement agreement and authorized the check on November 7, 2019. As a result, the statute did not bar Eckard’s UIM claim against State Farm.

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