“We all get a second chance; it’s called tomorrow.” Anon. Moye White (MW) represented David Beren in probate litigation. MW employed and assigned to Beren’s case an attorney with a past of disciplinary proceedings, mental illness, alcoholism, and related arrests. MW sued Beren for its attorneys’ fees; Beren counterclaimed for breach of fiduciary duty claiming he should have been told about the attorney’s history. The court of appeals disagreed; a law firm does not have a duty to disclose such history to a client. Any risk posed by an attorney’s past conduct is speculative, and therefore not material. For the same reason, no ethical duty to disclose such information exists under professional conduct rules 1.4 or 7.1. The court of appeals also upheld costs awarded MW for uploading documents into a document review platform and costs incurred after a pretrial offer of settlement.
Tag Archives: Settlement
Oasis Legal Finance, LLC, et. al., and Funding Holding, Inc., d/b/a LawCash v. John W. Suthers, as Attorney General; and Laura E. Udis, as the Administrator, Uniform Consumer Credit Code, 2013COA82 (May 23, 2013)
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride. Here, Plaintiffs pay tort plaintiffs while their cases are pending. Repayment depends on the net amount recovered (if any); and if recovery exceeds net proceeds, the debt is increased based on time. The Administrator of the Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code, CRS 5-1-101 to 13-103 (UCCC), found the agreements were unlawful “loans.” Plaintiffs disagreed and sued. The court of appeals, like the trial court, found for Administrator. Under the UCCC, a “loan” is a debt created by the lender’s payment, or agreement to pay, money to a consumer. A “debt” is either fixed (a specific sum due) or contingent (not presently fixed but may become fixed in the future). A debt is not, however, an unconditional promise to pay. Here, Plaintiffs’ payments were contingent debts and thus loans.
Philip Jordan and Roberta Jordan v. Safeco Insurance Company of America, Inc., 2013COA47 (March 28, 2013)
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.
Steven Pham, as personal representative of the estate of Louis Diep Pham, et. al., v. State Farm Automobile Insurance Co., 2013CO17 (March 4, 2013)
“’For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured.” – Haruki Murakami. This case began with a car accident in 1995. Litigation ensued. In 1998, Allstate settled, but three suits were still pending. Two state cases were stayed pending the outcome of the third – federal litigation over the denial of coverage by Hartford. The federal case was decided in 2006. The state cases, including a case against State Farm for underinsured motorist coverage, were dismissed in 2007. A new case was brought against State Farm in 2008, which was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. The Court affirmed dismissal. It held that the 2 year limitation in CRS 13-80-107.5(1)(b) begins upon a payment in the underlying bodily injury claim against the underinsured motorist. Here, it began running in 1998, the point at which the plaintiffs received a settlement payment from Allstate.
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.
Ambiguity keeps lawyers employed. In this case, a construction contract had an ambiguous “Cost/Plus” price provision that “included, without limitation” “wages [of] construction workers directly employed.” Owner believed the price was limited to the actual cost of wages. Builder believed “costs” referred to fixed wage rates that included unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and other expenses. Owner did not object to Builder’s interpretation until after litigation arose. The court of appeals held that Owner was estopped from arguing his interpretation was correct because he had full knowledge of the facts, unreasonably delayed, and Builder detrimentally relied on Owner’s delay. This was the first time a Colorado court applied the equitable estoppel doctrine to the interpretation of an ambiguous contract. It was remanded to recalculate damages.
A cyclist is attacked on federal land during a sponsored race by two “predator control dogs” whose owners had a permit to graze sheep in the area. The trial court granted summary judgment for the owners, finding that the Premises Liability Act (PLA) abrogated the cyclist’s common law tort claims, and a claim under the “dog bite statute” was excluded by the “predator control dogs” exception. The court of appeals disagreed in part. First, because the owners were grazing sheep pursuant to a Forest Service permit, they were “landowners” under the PLA, which abrogated common law tort claims. But, the owners were not in “control of” the land, so the predator control dog exception did not apply. The statutes did not conflict because the remedies under each are different. Finally, the court agreed that a settlement offer from the owners was successfully withdrawn and thus not enforceable.
Certiorari was granted in this case on “Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that the working dog exemption to section 13-21-124, C.R.S. (2012), applies only when a bite occurs on a dog owner’s property or property under his or her control, and that “control” of property exists only if one has the right to exclude others from it.”
No one likes to split winnings. But, in contingency fee agreements, if the client wins, the attorney gets some of the winnings. In this case, three firms agree to represent a client on a contingent basis. One firm leaves about halfway through. The client settles and the two remaining firms split the one-third fee. They cut the early-departing firm out of the fees. There is no contract among the firms regarding their split. The third firm brings a quantum meruit claim (unjust enrichment) seeking their third of the fees. The Court, upholding a court of appeals decision, held that even if an attorney has no right to claim quantum meruit from the client (because of the lack of due notice to the client), such claims can still be brought against co-counsel. Without deciding the statute of limitations period is 3 years, the Court held that a claim accrues at the time of settlement or judgment.
Timing is everything, especially when making settlement offers with a motion for summary judgment pending. The facts of this case present a twist on the old “mail box rule.” Defendant sent a statutory settlement offer to plaintiff. The next day, the trial court ruled in favor of defendant, granting summary judgment in full. Plaintiff then accepted the offer before defendant received actual notice of the ruling, because defendant did not opt for e-file notices. Defendant then attempted, unsuccessfully, to withdraw her offer. Defendant argued that the ruling extinguished the offer as a matter of law. The court disagreed; only two events terminate a statutory offer of settlement: withdrawal before acceptance or the end of the 14 day period. The result was not inequitable because defendant did not condition the offer to expire upon a ruling, and did not receive e-file notices.