Davis v. GuideOne Mutual Insurance Co., 2012COA70 (April 26, 2012)

Auto accidents hurt everyone. Wife became the named insured on an auto policy originally issued to her ex-husband. She got into an accident and obtained a sizable verdict against the insurer based on its failure to offer personal injury protection (PIP) options anew at the time she became insured. The core holding of the court of appeals was to uphold reformation of the policy to include the maximum PIP benefits that would have been offered had they been offered at the time the policy was issued to the ex-wife.  But two other holdings may have wider applicability. One, a motion for a new trial does not preserve an issue for appeal presented as an issue of law.  For that, a motion for “judgment notwithstanding verdict” is required. Second, a complaint may be amended to include punitive damages at the close of evidence if the defendant presented evidence contradicting the claim during trial.

http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Court_Of_Appeals/Opinion/2012/10CA1625%20&%2010CA2514-PD.pdf

http://www.cobar.org/opinions/opinion.cfm?opinionid=8490&courtid=1

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2 Comments

Filed under Insurance, Personal Injury

2 responses to “Davis v. GuideOne Mutual Insurance Co., 2012COA70 (April 26, 2012)

  1. This case was quite complex, both factually and legally, though the result was rather straight forward. Also, the court of appeals reversed the trial court on one issue. The trial court held that GuideOne owed a duty to inform the wife that she had other PIP options at the time the ex-husband was taken off the policy and she was added as the named insured. It then held that, because she was not offered PIP benefits as required by state law, she was entitled to a reformed policy with unlimited PIP benefits. The court of appeals reversed that part, holding that because the original policy contained a $200,000 limit for maximum PIP protection, and that that limit would have been offered, it was the limit of the reformed policy’s PIP benefits.

    The court of appeals also declined to review a number of issues appealed by GuideOne. First, GuideOne attempted to have the denials of its motions for summary judgment reviewed. Denials of summary judgment are not, however, appealable, except under very limited and inapplicable circumstances. It was this discussion that led to the finding that it had not preserved for appeal the issues it raised in its motion for a new trial. Motions for a new trial seek to reverse a holding based on an issue of fact. Motions JNOV are for reversal of a judgment as a matter of law. GuideOne was appealing based solely on what it described as purely a matter of law, so the motion for a new trial did not preserve its appeal.

    There was also an interesting issue with respect to the statutory attorneys fees awarded by the court. Under the prior version of the CAARA 10-4-708(1.7)(c)(I), a party was entitled to attorneys fees in proportion to the success of the claim for PIP benefits. On the jury instructions, the jury entered “0” for the amount of medical bills GuideOne should have paid, but awarded over $900,000 in economic damages. But the central issue was whether GuideOne should have paid medical bills. Although GuideOne argued that the wife was “zero percent successful” both the trial court and appeals court rejected that claim. Essentially, they agreed that the jury verdict, though ambiguous, constituted a success for the plaintiff. Judgment for plaintiff was over $5 million, and $344,680 in attorneys fees were awarded.

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  2. The holding with respect to punitive damages should peak trial attorney’s attention. The reason the amendment was allowed was because “willful and wanton” conduct was part of the statutory treble damages claim. The trial court and the court of appeals held that it was basically the same evidence presented by the defense, whether for statutory exemplary damages or common law punitive damages. From a strategic perspective, defendants should be aware of the possibility of stealth punitive damages claims, and seek to narrow the scope of any claim in which “willful or wanton” conduct is an element.

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