Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Petitioner Lisa French went to respondents Centura Health Corporation and Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado d/b/a St. Anthony North Health Campus (collectively, “Centura”) for surgery. Upon reviewing French’s insurance information prior to surgery, Centura advised her that she would personally be responsible for $1,336.90 of the amounts to be billed. After the surgery, however, Centura determined that it had misread French’s insurance card and that she was, in fact, an out-of-network patient. Centura then billed French $229,112.13 and ultimately sued her to collect. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to review: (1) whether here, Centura’s database used by listing rates for specific medical services and supplies, was incorporated by reference into hospital services agreements (“HSAs”) that French had signed; and (2) if so, whether the price term in the HSAs was sufficiently unambiguous to render the HSAs enforceable. The Court concluded that because French neither had knowledge of nor assented to the chargemaster, which was not referenced in the HSA or disclosed to her, the chargemaster was not incorporated by reference into the HSA. Accordingly, the HSA left its price term open, and therefore, the jury appropriately determined that term. The Court reverse the judgment of the division below, and did not decide whether the price that French was to pay was unambiguous, even if the HSA incorporated the chargemaster. View "French v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

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The federal district court for the District of Colorado certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. In July 2020, Alexis Skillett was involved in a car accident. At the time of the accident, Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”) insured Skillett under a policy that included underinsured motorist coverage. Skillett settled with the at-fault driver and his insurer and also filed a claim with Allstate for underinsured motorist benefits. Allstate assigned one of its employees, Collin Draine, to handle Skillett’s claim. Draine concluded Skillett was not entitled to underinsured motorist benefits. Skillett filed suit in Denver District Court, naming both Allstate and Draine as defendants. Her claims against Allstate included breach of contract, statutory bad faith, and common law bad faith. As to Draine, she alleged that he had personally violated section 10-3-1116, which creates a cause of action for insureds whose insurance benefits have been unreasonably delayed or denied. The certified question asked the Supreme Court whether an employee of an insurance company who adjusts an insured’s claim in the course of employment could, for that reason, be liable personally for statutory bad faith under Colorado Revised Statutes Sections 10-3-1115 and -1116. Given the plain statutory language, the Supreme Court answered that question in the negative: "An action for unreasonably delayed or denied insurance benefits under Colorado law may be brought against an insurer, not against an individual adjuster acting solely as an employee of the insurer." View "Skillet v. Allstate" on Justia Law

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In August 2016, Plaintiff Maribel Ronquillo was in an automobile collision. According to her complaint, Ronquillo was rear-ended by defendant Jesse Williams, who was operating a vehicle owned by an EcoClean employee and towing an EcoClean trailer. Ronquillo suffered serious physical injuries and incurred around $250,000 in medical expenses. At the time of the accident, Ronquillo did not have health insurance, so she entered into a medical finance lien agreement with Injury Finance. Under the terms of that agreement, Injury Finance purchased Ronquillo’s accounts receivable from her healthcare providers at a predetermined, discounted contractual rate, which allowed Ronquillo to receive prompt medical care. Ronquillo remained contractually obligated to repay Injury Finance for “all charges billed by the [medical] [p]roviders” regardless of the result of any litigation. Ronquillo and her husband filed suit alleging negligence and loss of consortium against Williams and asserting a respondeat superior claim against EcoClean. As part of discovery, Defendants subpoenaed Injury Finance, seeking information and documents pertaining to Injury Finance’s accounts receivable purchase rates, provider contracts, and business operations and methodologies. When Injury Finance did not respond to the subpoena, Defendants filed a motion to compel production, which the district court granted. Defendants also filed a “motion for determination of a question of law pursuant to C.R.C.P. 56(h) that Injury Finance . . . is not a collateral source[]” subject to the pre-verdict evidentiary component of the collateral source rule. This interlocutory appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court raised the narrow question of whether a medical finance company was a collateral source for purposes of the pre-verdict evidentiary component of Colorado’s collateral source rule. The Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Injury Finance was not a collateral source, "Collateral sources must confer a 'benefit,' as defined in section 10-1-135(2)(a), C.R.S. (2021), onto the injured party. ... Ronquillo has not received a benefit from Injury Finance for purposes of the collateral source rule because her arrangement with Injury Finance does not reduce her financial obligations." The Court expressed no opinion on whether the disputed evidence could be excluded under other evidentiary rules such as CRE 401 and 403. View "Ronquillo v. EcoClean" on Justia Law

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Peggy Harvey and Eileen Manzanares were injured in separate car accidents when their cars were struck by other drivers. Each was then taken to a Centura-affiliated hospital (along with Centura Health Corporation, “Centura”) for treatment. At the time they were treated by Centura, both women’s health insurance was solely through Medicare and Medicaid. And both women’s injuries resulted in hospital stays. In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, both women had automobile insurance whose policies included medical payment ("Med Pay") coverage for medical bills incurred as a result of a motor vehicle accident. In addition, the third-party tortfeasors who caused Harvey’s and Manzanares’s injuries also had automobile insurance. Both Harvey and Manzanares advised Centura of all of the available health and automobile insurance policies. Centura then assigned the women’s accounts to a collection agency, Avectus Healthcare Solutions, for processing; Avectus submitted Centura’s medical expenses to each of the automobile insurers involved, including the automobile insurers for Harvey, Manzanares, and the third-party tortfeasors. Within two weeks after submitting these charges to the various automobile insurers (and within two months of the women’s respective discharges from their hospital stays), Centura filed hospital liens against both of the women. Centura conceded it did not bill either Medicare or Medicaid before filing their respective liens. Both Harvey and Manzanares subsequently brought suit, alleging that Centura had violated the Lien Statute by not billing Medicare for the services provided to the women prior to filing the liens. The parties disputed whether when, as here, Medicare was a person’s principal source of health coverage, Medicare could be considered a “primary medical payer of benefits” under the Lien Statute (such that a hospital must bill Medicare before asserting a lien), or if such an interpretation was barred by the Medicare Secondary Payer statute, which designated Medicare as a “secondary payer.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when Medicare was a patient’s primary health insurer, the Lien Statute required a hospital to bill Medicare for the medical services provided to the patient before asserting a lien against that patient. "Hospital liens are governed by state, not federal, law, and merely enforcing our Lien Statute does not make Medicare a primary payer of medical benefits in violation of the MSP Statute." View "Harvey v. Centura, No." on Justia Law

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William Scholle worked for United Airlines, Inc., driving luggage tugs from the terminal to waiting planes, loading or unloading the bags, and returning to the terminal. In June 2012, Scholle was stopped at a stop sign on a return trip to the terminal when he was rear-ended by Daniel Moody, an employee of Delta Air Lines, Inc. Scholle applied for and received workers’ compensation insurance benefits from United, a self-insured employer. United covered all medical expenses resulting from Scholle’s on-the-job injuries, as well as a portion of his lost wages. Scholle’s medical providers produced bills for the services he received that reflected costs in excess of what is permitted by the workers’ compensation fee schedule, though they never tried to collect amounts beyond those permitted by statute. United exercised its subrogation right and sued Delta and Moody to recover the payments it made to and on behalf of Scholle. Scholle separately sued Delta and Moody for negligence, seeking to recover compensation for damages as a result of the collision. Eventually, Delta settled United’s subrogation claim; Scholle’s claims against Moody were later dismissed, leaving only Scholle and Delta as parties. Delta admitted liability for the accident, and the case went to trial on damages. In pretrial motions in limine, Scholle argued that the collateral source rule should preclude Delta from admitting evidence of the amount paid by Scholle’s workers’ compensation insurance to cover the medical expenses arising from his injuries. Instead, Scholle contended, the higher amounts billed by his medical providers reflected the true reasonable value of the medical services provided to him and should have been admissible at trial. The trial court disagreed, reasoning that when Delta settled with United, it effectively paid Scholle’s medical expenses, such that amounts paid for those expenses were no longer payments by a collateral source. The court further noted that, under the workers’ compensation statute, any amount billed for medical treatment in excess of the statutory fee schedule was “unlawful,” “void,” and “unenforceable.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when, as here, a workers’ compensation insurer settles its subrogation claim for reimbursement of medical expenses with a third-party tortfeasor, the injured employee’s claim for past medical expenses is extinguished completely. "Because the injured employee need not present evidence of either billed or paid medical expenses in the absence of a viable claim for such expenses, the collateral source rule is not implicated under these circumstances. The court of appeals therefore erred in remanding for a new trial on medical expenses based on a perceived misapplication of that rule." View "Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Scholle" on Justia Law

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In December 2015, Joseph Gill was injured in an on-the-job car accident when he was struck by a truck owned by Swift Transportation Company, LLC (“Swift”), driven by Christopher Waltz. As a result of the injuries he suffered in the accident, Gill obtained workers’ compensation benefits through Pinnacol Assurance (“Pinnacol”) to cover his medical expenses. Gill’s medical providers produced bills totaling $627,809.76 for the services he received. However, because Colorado’s workers’ compensation scheme caps the amount that medical providers can charge, Pinnacol satisfied all of Gill’s past medical expenses for significantly less. Pinnacol then pursued, and ultimately settled, its subrogation claim with Swift. Gill and his wife subsequently sued Swift and Waltz for damages resulting from the accident, and the case was removed from state court to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Swift sought partial summary judgment , relying on case law which, in applying Colorado’s workers’ compensation law, concluded that an injured employee lacked standing to pursue damages for services that were covered by workers’ compensation after the insurer had settled its subrogated claims with the third-party tortfeasor. While the federal district court was considering Swift’s motion, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Scholle v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 2019 COA 81M, in which a divided court disagreed with the case law. Instead, it determined that a plaintiff-employee could seek damages for medical services covered by workers’ compensation insurance if the billed amounts were higher than the paid amounts, even after the insurer had settled its subrogation claim. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding that a settlement between a workers’ compensation insurer and a third-party tortfeasor for all past medical expenses paid as a result of an on-the-job injury extinguished the plaintiff-employee’s claim to recover damages for those past medical expenses from the third-party tortfeasor. "As a result, while Joseph Gill may still pursue his claims for noneconomic damages and any economic damages not covered by his workers’ compensation insurer, he no longer has any claim to recover economic damages based on services paid for by workers’ compensation. There is consequently no reason to present evidence of either the amounts billed or the amounts paid for those services, and the collateral source rule is not implicated in this case." View "Gill v. Waltz" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether an injured passenger riding in a vehicle negligently driven by one co-worker and owned by another co-worker, when all three were acting within the course and scope of their employment, could recover UM/UIM benefits under the vehicle owner’s insurance policy. Although the parties disputed the meaning of the phrases “legally entitled to recover” and “legally entitled to collect” under section 10-4-609, C.R.S. (2020) the Court did not resolve that dispute here because, assuming without deciding that plaintiff Kent Ryser’s interpretation was correct, the Court concluded that he still could not prevail. Specifically, the Court found an injured co-worker was barred by operation of the Workers’ Compensation Act's (“WCA”) exclusivity and co-employee immunity principles from recovering UM/UIM benefits from a co-employee vehicle owner’s insurer for damages stemming from a work-related accident in which another co-employee negligently drove the owner’s vehicle and the injured party was an authorized passenger. Though the Court's reasoning differed from the appellate court's judgment, it affirmed the outcome: summary judgment was properly entered in favor of the insurance company. View "Ryser v. Shelter Mutual Insurance" on Justia Law

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William Persichette, through Franklin D. Azar & Associates, P.C., brought an underinsured-motorist (“UIM”) action against Owners Insurance Company (“Owners”) for allegedly handling his insurance claim unreasonably and in bad faith. About three months later, Persichette retained Mark Levy of Levy Law, P.C. (collectively “Levy Law”) as co-counsel. Owners promptly moved to disqualify Levy Law pursuant to Colo. RPC Rule 1.9(a) on the ground that Levy Law was Owners’ longtime former counsel and had a conflict of interest. The district court denied the motion, finding that Levy Law’s representation of Persichette was not “substantially related” to Levy Law’s decade-plus representation of Owners. Owners then filed a C.A.R. 21 petition invoking the Colorado Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in denying Owners’ motion to disqualify, and reversed. View "Persichette v. Owners Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The certified question arose from a dispute in which plaintiff Amica Life Insurance Company sought a declaratory judgment that it was not required to pay defendant Michael Wertz benefits under a life insurance policy naming Wertz as the beneficiary. The policy, which was issued in compliance with a standard enacted by the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission (the “Commission”), contained a two-year suicide exclusion, and the insured committed suicide more than one year but less than two years after Amica had issued the life insurance policy to him. Wertz contended that the policy’s two-year suicide exclusion was unenforceable because it conflicted with Colorado statute, section 10-7-109, C.R.S. (2019). Wertz asserted that the Colorado General Assembly could not properly delegate to the Commission the authority to enact a standard that would effectively override this statute. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with Wertz, and accordingly, answered the certified question narrowly: the General Assembly did not have the authority to delegate to the Commission the power to issue a standard authorizing the sale of life insurance policies in Colorado containing a two-year suicide exclusion when a Colorado statute prohibited insurers doing business in Colorado from asserting suicide as a defense against payment on a life insurance policy after the first year of that policy. View "Amica Life Insurance Company v. Wertz" on Justia Law

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A condominium association, Dakota Station II Condominium, filed two claims with its insurer, Owners Insurance Company, for weather damage. The parties couldn’t agree on the money owed, so Dakota invoked the appraisal provision of its insurance policy. The parties each selected an appraiser, putting the rest of the provision’s terms into motion. Ultimately, the appraisers submitted conflicting value estimates to an umpire, and the umpire issued a final award, accepting some estimates from each appraiser. Dakota’s appraiser signed onto the award, and Owners paid Dakota. Owners later moved to vacate the award, arguing that Dakota’s appraiser was not “impartial” as required by the insurance policy’s appraisal provision and that she failed to disclose material facts. The trial court disagreed and “dismissed” the motion to vacate. A division of the court of appeals affirmed. In its review, the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted the policy’s impartiality requirement and determined whether a contingent-cap fee agreement between Dakota and its appraiser rendered the appraiser partial as a matter of law. The Court concluded the plain language of the policy required appraisers to be unbiased, disinterested, and unswayed by personal interest, and the contingent-cap fee agreement didn’t render Dakota’s appraiser partial as a matter of law. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals with respect to the contingent-cap fee agreement, reversed with respect to the impartiality requirement, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Owners Ins. v. Dakota Station II Condo. Ass'n" on Justia Law