Frank Patterson and Karl Chambers won a summary judgment motion in a declaratory relief action entitled Viking Insurance Co v. Mark Achter; Monica Achter; Little Willie J. Ortiz, II; Darrell J. Ortiz in Pueblo County, case number 2017 CV 030215. The case involved an excluded driver who was involved in the accident. Because the Complaint in the underlying bodily injury suit identified the excluded driver as the operator of the vehicle at the time of the accident, the declaratory relief action could be pursued without awaiting the conclusion of the underlying suit. The trial court agreed the exclusion was consistent with Colorado law and Viking was not obligated to defend or indemnify for the accident.
Frank Patterson and Lindsay Dunn won a defense verdict in an important bad faith “set-up” case in El Paso County with exposure of almost $10 million. The jury found for defendant State Farm on all claims after a 7-day jury trial.
Plaintiff Melanie Rountree was insured through State Farm for auto insurance liability policies totaling $1,250,000. She was 100% at fault in causing an auto accident on January 19, 2013. Rountree, while extremely intoxicated, drove her vehicle through a red light and collided with Patrick Kirchhofer’s vehicle, causing serious and permanent injuries to Mr. Kirchhofer, including partial paralysis. Ms. Rountree claimed that State Farm unreasonably failed to timely make an offer to settle, causing a judgment to be entered against Ms. Rountree in the amount of $4,102,526.05. State Farm paid its policy limits plus interest and costs after judgment was entered, leaving an unpaid judgment balance of $3,469,598.25 as of the second trial. Rountree entered into a Bashor Agreement with Kirchhofer and was represented at the bad faith trial by the same lawyers who had represented Kirchhofer. She sought the unpaid amount of the judgment, plus two times the insurance limits (a total of $2.5 million) for unreasonable delay under C.R.S. § 10-3-1115 and 1116, punitive damages of $3,469,598.25, and attorney fees. In closing, the total requested by her attorneys was $9,439,196.50, plus attorney fees in excess of $500,000.00.
State Farm provided Rountree a defense to the Kirchhofer suit and Rountree later hired personal counsel. During the underlying litigation, Kirchhofer’s attorneys sent a letter demanding a settlement offer from State Farm. The letter purposely did not say State Farm’s limits would be accepted as a full and final settlement. Rountree and her attorneys advised State Farm not to offer its policy limits because that would immediately expose Rountree’s personal assets for further negotiations. They still hoped to convince Kirchhofer’s attorneys to accept policy limits for a full release. State Farm agreed to Rountree’s request. When State Farm’s policy limits were not offered by the deadline Kirchhofer’s attorneys revoked their “demand”, claimed it was bad faith and argued State Farm was now exposed to the full damages suffered by Kirchhofer. They demanded $12 million at mediation and $27 million at the injury trial. After the injury trial Rountree entered into the Bashor Agreement, assigning her bad faith claim proceeds to Kirchhofer.
During the bad faith trial, Frank Patterson and Lindsay Dunn convinced the jury that State Farm never had a reasonable opportunity to settle the case for several reasons. First, it was following the request of its insured in not making the policy limits offer. Second, Kirchhofer and his lawyers had no intent to settle for the State Farm policy limits. The lawyers were trying to create a “set-up”, a way to claim bad faith and open the policy limits.
This case is important for insurers because there is a surge of “set-up” cases in Colorado as a result of the punitive provisions of C.R.S. § 10-3-1115 and 1116. This case shows that juries will consider the question whether the insurer had a reasonable chance to settle, and that set-up cases raise real doubts about the plaintiff’s intent to settle.
Frank Patterson made oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court on the important Fisher v State Farm case on October 18. He expects a ruling by late Spring. The Court of Appeals surprised everyone in 2015 by announcing a rule that UM/UIM carriers were required to make piecemeal payments of portions of the UM/UIM claim which were “undisputed”. Typically, these would be economic damages such as medical expenses. The Court discovered this requirement in the “Unreasonable Delay/Denial” statute which, Frank argued, makes no mention whatsoever of partial payments or even of the UM/UIM statute. In effect, the Court of Appeals created a new pay-as-you-go medical coverage like the old PIP or No-Fault system. Unfortunately, this new mandate from the Court of Appeals came with no guidelines, regulations or legislative guidance such as exist with MPC or existed under the old PIP system. The case has generated substantial claims disputes and subsequent litigation over demands for “Fisher” payments. We hope the Supreme Court reverses this unfortunate misinterpretation of Colorado statutes and reinstates the system which had worked well for almost 50 years. Frank is happy to answer questions about the case or about the current state of the law in relation to Fisher.
On September 14, 2017, The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the directed verdict for the defendant obtained by attorneys Frank Patterson and Hillary Patterson in the case of My Roofer, Inc. v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company (16CA1478; Weld County District Court, 2015CV30425). In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals ruled that decking damaged by the separate, nonfortuitous loss of ‘wear, tear, and deterioration’ was not covered by the OL (Ordinance and Law) endorsement of the State Farm policy. The court also ruled the pre-existing damaged decking did not constitute ‘undamaged’ property under the terms of the policy for purposes of coverage under the OL endorsement. Finally, the court ruled that My Roofer failed to preserve the issue of whether the Loss Settlement section of the policy required coverage for the decking under a theory that decking is an inseparable component of a roof assembly or a roof system. The court declined to rule on the unpreserved issue as the new legal theory was not unequivocally correct. Oral arguments were presented on September 6, 2017.
In the case of Robert Stephenson v. Lindsey Heaston (2016CV031355), Hillary Patterson obtained an Order of Dismissal for Continued Violation of Discovery Obligations. This is an important victory not only because it dismissed all claims against the defendant, but also because it reflects the firm’s goals and commitment to clients to vigorously defend their interests while avoiding unnecessary and excessive litigation fees and costs.
The revised Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure aim to promote more complete disclosure and to curtail discovery costs. While dismissal is a drastic sanction, the circumstances of this litigation and the discovery violations warranted dismissal. In the Order of Dismissal, Adams County District Court Judge Moss astutely quoted the following excerpt from a timely and relevant article in the Colorado Lawyer:
“‘[T]he elephant in the living room of civil litigation is that even ‘proportionate’ litigation costs in the average case are so high [as] to be out of reach for all but the wealthiest of individuals and corporations…. Judges have some responsibility for this situation, because many of us are so resistant to enforcing the existing rules with the bite of sanctions.’ Wang & Hoffman, A Year after Significant Civil Justice Reforms in Colorado, Colorado Lawyer (Jan. 2017).
Order of Dismiss. For Cont’d Violation of Discov. Obligations. Aug. 8, 2017.
Karl Chambers won the case of Sentry v. Barragan, Adams County, Case No. 16CV31486 on summary judgment. This was a declaratory judgment action that we filed on behalf of Sentry Insurance seeking a declaration that there was no insurance coverage under an “operator’s policy” issued to the mother when her daughter was driving the car. The court agreed with our postion and held that Sentry was not required to provide libility coverage when the daughter was involved in an accident while driving her mom’s car. You can read the order here.
There have been recent changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure regarding disclosure obligations and discovery requests. Requests for disclosure or discovery must be narrowly tailored and proportional to the needs of the case. In light of these changes, Frank Patterson recently obtained a favorable Order for his client in a bad faith case precluding extensive discovery of what has come to be thought of as “institutional discovery.” The Order can be reviewed here.
In a declaratory relief action filed by the insurer for failure to cooperate after the insured entered into a Nunn Agreement, Frank Patterson and Lindsay Dunn obtained an order denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The defendants argued that Nunn Agreements are allowed under Colorado law and therefore, cannot be a failure to cooperate. The trial court denied the motion holding that the case law does not automatically allow for such agreements and that an insured may enter into such an agreement when the insurer has acted unreasonably or in the face of a colorable bad faith claim. This case will have significant ramifications for insurers’ ability to challenge Nunn Agreements.
Karl Chambers obtained a defense verdict in the case of Shaun Olguin v. Louis Chacon dba Louie’s Barber Shop in Boulder County. The plaintiff claimed that he was injured while receiving a haircut at Louie’s Barber Shop and developed a staph infection that required medical treatment, including surgery. Karl defended Mr. Chacon on the theory that the plaintiff was never in the barber shop on the date that he claimed, but even if he was, the staph infection was not caused by conditions at the barber shop, but rather was due to a pre-existing medical condition that plaintiff had. The jury returned a defense verdict in favor of Mr. Chacon finding that the plaintiff’s alleged injuries were not caused by any negligence of Mr. Chacon or Louie’s Barber Shop.
We are pleased to announce that Todd Dieterich has been named a Non-Equity Partner. Todd has been with the firm for over five years and has met with success as a trial lawyer and developing solid relationships in the community. Congratulations, Todd!
Frank Patterson was among 531 Denver attorneys named as 5280 Magazine’s Top Lawyers in 2017. He was named as a Top Lawyer in the field of Personal Injury Defense. Congratulations, Frank!
Hillary Patterson obtained summary judgment for a client that paid work loss PIP benefits to its insured following a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Michigan (State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Timika Thomas, 16CV30578). The insured subsequently recovered duplicate Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, but refused to reimburse the insurer pursuant to Michigan law. This case involved the application of Colorado’s choice of law principles, Michigan insurance law, and Michigan law governing breach of contract.