Twice the covered benefits plus attorneys’ fees and costs is what an insurance company must pay if it acts in bad faith when deciding an uninsured or underinsured insurance claim under CRS 10-3-1116. In this case, the claimant/plaintiff was awarded $0 damages on a statutory bad faith claim, but ultimately recovered three times the amount of UIM coverage available under the policy: double for statutory bad faith and a third under the settlement of a bad faith breach of contract claim. The court of appeals affirmed. First, it held that the policies were ambiguous on the identity of the insured, allowing the jury to conclude claimant was an insured. Then it held that even if the question of coverage was fairly debatable, delay or denying coverage was not necessarily reasonable. And finally, a successful statutory claim independently entitles a claimant to double the covered benefits.
“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” – HHGTTG. Here, Plaintiff fell three stories in a dimly lit house under construction when a handrail gave way. He sued Defendant/landowner and two builders who negligently put up the handrail. The builders defaulted. The jury found for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed. The trial court did not give an instruction to apportion fault between Defendant and the builders; the court of appeals held it should have. But, since landowners have a nondelegable duty to keep property safe, and thus, Defendant was vicariously liable for all of the builders’ liability, the error was harmless. The evidence did support Plaintiff’s contributory negligence, so it was an error not to offer that instruction. Finally, Plaintiff was a licensee, not a trespasser. The case was remanded for a determination of plaintiff’s fault only.
“He who lives by the crystal ball soon learns to eat ground glass.” – Edgar R. Fiedler. In this case, the Court held that recovering damages for the bad advice of a transactional real estate broker requires proof of what would have happened but-for the bad advice. Analogizing to legal malpractice claims, the Court noted that a plaintiff must show either that he: 1) would have been able to obtain a “better deal” or 2) would have been better off with “no deal.” Both require proof that the professional’s negligent acts or omissions caused the client damages. Here, Plaintiff claimed lost profits as damages, requiring proof of either the amount of the profits that would have been earned or the fact that profits would have been earned. Plaintiff had an appraisal. The appraisal wasn’t proof a future sale of the property would have been better or different than the actual sale. Dismissal affirmed.
“The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intention.” (Anonymous). Here, MLM paid an accident victim’s medical bills in exchange for an assignment of settlement funds, if any. MLM gave notice of the assignment to the tortfeasor’s insurer Allstate, who then settled. Allstate paid the victim instead of MLM. MLM sued Allstate for breach of both the settlement contract and the assignment. The trial court dismissed MLM’s claims. The court of appeals reversed, holding: 1) personal injury claims may be validly assigned prior to settlement, as they were here; 2) the notice of assignment was sufficient and triggered Allstate’s duty to pay MLM, despite its lack of consent; and 3) because the victim had a claim against Allstate, MLM had a claim. Finally, the court rejected a request to apply the Federal pleading standards in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly. Dismissal reversed.
A contempt of court order issued to compel compliance cost $231,300. Before 1995, CRCP 107 limited remedial contempt fines paid to parties; anything in excess of actual damages, costs and fees was outside the court’s jurisdiction. The 1995 amendments and the current rule now permit a fine paid to a party to exceed the damages caused by the contempt. Here, appellant was ordered to return property to decedent’s children; she disobeyed the order. The trial court issued a continuing fine of $100/day that grew to $1000/day after continued non-compliance. She claimed the trial court lacked jurisdiction and, under CRCP 60, the judgment was void. The trial court disagreed. The court of appeals also rejected her arguments and the pre-1995 cases on which she relied because Rule 107 now permits such fines. The trial court had jurisdiction, and thus properly denied relief under CRCP 60.
Maritime law applies in Colorado. Defendants (D) bring goods from Australia to CO. Plaintiff (P) is a subcontractor for packing and shipping. D is not paid and then fails to pay P. P asserts a lien against D’s goods, so D enters into a payment agreement (governed by CA law) with P. D breaches, P sues and wins. On appeal, D argued the state courts lack subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were subject to federal Maritime law. The court of appeals held that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction only for in rem maritime claims, but that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over these in personsam maritime claims. The court of appeals also then held: 1) judgment was final despite directions regarding post-judgment satisfaction; 2) there was no setoff for judgments against different parties; and 3) the trial court correctly resolved the contract claims under CA law.
Mind the gap. In this case, the gap is between a settlement less than the policy limits of an insured motorist who caused an accident, and the total amount of actual damages. Under a former version of CRS 10-4-609, underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage must cover the difference between any settlement and the total amount of damages – a reduction approach. But, the law changed, and now UIM policies must only cover the amount of total damages in excess of the policy limits of an insured motorist. Here, the UIM policy was excess and consistent with CRS 10-4-609. The court of appeals therefore held that UIM coverage was not available where, as here, the settlement was less than the policy limits of the available insurance. In light of the public policy reflected by the statute, the court was not free to reach a different result. Thus, there was no unreasonable denial of coverage.
“Listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a 27b/6.” Harry Tuttle – Brazil. In this case, Defendant’s employee, while repairing a cooling system, caused a tank of ammonia to explode, causing property damage. Plaintiff sued in tort, not breach of contract. The court of appeals affirmed dismissal under the economic loss rule (ELR). No tort duties existed outside of the repair contract because Plaintiff could have sought consequential damages, equal to tort damages, even with a limitation-of-liability clause. Though ammonia is toxic, the standard of “reasonable care” in tort law is the same as “prudent and workmanlike” because Colorado does not recognize a distinct “highest” degree of care. The court also held that ELR applies to property damage and negligent supervision is not a distinct tort claim.
Filed under Contracts, Torts
Owning a nightclub is so full of drama there is a reality TV show about it. This case starts with a bar fight, but ends with a lawsuit against an insurance broker. A Bar’s Patron is injured during a fight and sues. Bar’s insurance policy had an assault and battery exclusion and denied coverage. Bar didn’t think its policy had the exclusion, so Bar sued Broker. Bar settles with Patron and executes a “Bashor” agreement, assigning any proceeds from Bar’s claims. But the claims against Broker are dismissed because of the assignment. The court of appeals held: 1) Broker must show the settlement was unreasonable, 2) Bar could still claim assigned damages, 3) Broker’s failure to obtain the insurance requested gave rise to a negligence claim, and 4) that claim was assignable because it was a commercial, not personal transaction. Summary Judgment for Broker reversed and the case was reinstated.
UPDATE: On January 31, 2013, the court of appeals modified its original opinion to include an entire section addressing a motion for rehearing by the Defendants. Defendant employees asserted the court should rehear the case. They argued that on remand they should not be subject to meeting a heightened standard of proof for sham litigation claims (arising from First Amendment protections for litigation activity) for their claims. They based the petition in part on the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in General Steel Domestic Sales v. Bacheller, 2012CO68 (Nov. 27, 2012). The court denied rehearing and declined to withdraw the original opinion, holding that General Steel did not decide the issue of whether the heightened standard applied to private party disputes brought through a judicial proceeding.
REVISED OPINION: http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Court_Of_Appeals/Opinion/2012/11CA1829%20modified-PD.pdf
“Sham litigation.” A cynic would call that phrase redundant. However, the First Amendment protects the rights of individuals to have their claims decided in civil courts, unless they are devoid of a reasonable factual basis; such claims are an abuse of process. In this case, Employer sues former Employees who allegedly started a competing business. Employees counterclaim stating the Employer’s case is an abuse of process. A jury dismisses all claims and finds in favor of defendant Employees on the counterclaim. Employer argues that because their claims went to the jury, they could not have been devoid of a reasonable factual basis, so the counterclaim should have been dismissed. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to decide the counterclaim, and remanded for the trial court to determine if Employer’s claims had a reasonable factual basis.