Many of the cases that came down from the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals near the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 covered language and its interpretation. Whether it’s strapping on skis or trying to figure out whether the death of a plaintiff means the insurance company is off the hook, the specific language involved typically became the determining factor in the outcome:
- Enforceability of Ski Lift Waivers: When a person gets on a ski lift and is riding high to the top of the mountain, has that person really read the back of the lift ticket? How many people just sign or click “accept” without reading what is contained in the language? In Brigance v. Vail Summit Resorts, Inc., United States District Court D., Colorado, January 13, 2017, the Court granted Motions for Summary Judgment for Vail Summit Resorts, based on the waivers on the back of the lift tickets. A woman was hurt, and the company was ultimately released from liability because the waiver language on the ticket was plain.
- Statutory Duty to Report: In Andrade v. Johnson, Court of Appeals, Colorado, Division V., Plaintiff sued Defendant in district court in Colorado Springs for damages she suffered when Plaintiff slipped and fell on a sidewalk adjacent to Defendant’s home. The Court of Appeals interpreted a statute using ordinary structure and meaning. Lo and behold, Defendant possibly did have a duty. The two parties disagreed. Plaintiff said the sidewalk was damaged and Johnson said it was not. This material fact was clearly in dispute. Summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded.
- What Constitutes Acceptance to Determine Statute of Limitations: In Kovac v. Farmers Insurance, Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division I., a settlement offer was made to Plaintiff that included this language: “If this amount is acceptable, please send us the enclosed release signed.” The check (and the language of the offer) was received by Plaintiff’s attorney and three days later she signed the check, officially accepting the offer. The three days were the difference in whether the statute of limitations had run. The Court of Appeals determined that language meant the offer was not accepted until the date Plaintiff signed the check. That date meant the statute of limitations had not run. Summary judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded.
- Determining Legislative Intent in the Survivor Statute: In Casper v. Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company, Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division II., a jury awarded a man a verdict in excess of 4 million dollars. Between the verdict and the entry of the final judgment, the man died. The insurance company tried to weasel out of paying the estate the money awarded, claiming Casper’s entitlement to certain damages was extinguished at his death because of the Colorado Survivor Statute. The Court of Appeals examined the legislative intent, and determined the case had been settled on the merits, and that lawmakers wrote the law promoting the just and reasonable result that was intended. The judgment was affirmed and remanded.
- Contract Attempts to Extend the Statute of Limitations: In Lewis v. Taylor, the Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division IV., determined whether parties could create a written agreement to circumvent the law determining the statute of limitations. Short answer: No.
- Attorney Fees After Being Fired for Cause: In Martinez v. Mintz, the Supreme Court of Colorado (2016) determined which attorney gets paid. In this case, the first attorney (Mintz) was fired for cause. When a settlement was reached, Mintz filed for a lien. The Supreme Court used Mintz’s own retainer language against the firm. The Court reversed and remanded the case.
What have we learned? As lawyers, we know to always read the fine print and know that words make a difference. These cases above only solidify this basic point.
The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado.