Colorado Supreme Court ruling produces plaintiff windfall
Last week’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling in the Volunteers of America v. Gardenswartz case created a windfall win for personal injury trial lawyers (the “ambulance-chaser” set) and incidentally, some of the clients they represent, in collecting damage reimbursements above and beyond amounts actually paid.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” (yes, Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey wrote the opinion, in what may be her last parting shot at the Colorado Constitution and the rule of law) in a 4-3 decision (joined by usual suspects Michael Bender, Greg Hobbs and Alex Martinez forming the hard core of the “make it up as we go along” crowd) overturned both a lower court and clear statutory language (13-21-111.6. Civil actions – reduction of damages for payment from collateral source) limiting double-dipping damage recovery.
In plain language, the court ruled that plaintiffs (and their lawyers, who typically collect about a third or more of the total “recovered damages”) are entitled to the amount of medical costs originally billed, even if subsequent bargaining or other arrangements reduces the amount actually paid.
As Justice Nancy Rice noted in her dissent, the majority fortified its opinion by selectively misquoting a key co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Al Mieklejohn, who argued, “I don’t think a person ought to collect more than once . . . for hospital costs and things like that.”
Mieklejohn argued that the victim’s insurer should “be allowed to collect” from the at-fault party “to get their money back.” That is, the insurer should be allowed to recover the costs it actually paid. Nowhere did the legislature suggest that the victim had a legitimate claim to a greater amount simply by virtue of buying insurance.
The dissenters, also including justices Allison Eid and Nathan Coats, noted that the majority’s opinion is contrary to “the legislature’s clear intent, the statute’s plain language and sound public policy.”
Why should you care?
Those of us with respect for the rule of law as a matter of principle are outraged at yet another blatant example of judicial “legislating from the bench” in overturning clear statutory language to achieve a desired outcome.
Those of us who believe in a truly independent judiciary free from conflict of interest and potential quid pro quo corruption are concerned that this ruling, by handing over a windfall to the trial lawyers who supported the incumbent judicial majority in retaining office (violating Colorado campaign finance law in the process), further undermines confidence in the courts and the rule of law in our state by raising a perception of potential legal-judicial collusion and quid pro quo corruption).
ALL of us who might receive medical care at some point in our lives (particularly those of us who actually bother to pay for medical insurance) should be concerned about the ruling’s impact on insurance costs (they’ll be going up) and enhanced potential for abusive lawsuits (they’ll increase).
Colorado’s out-of-control state supreme court continues to cost our populace millions (from upholding unconstitutional tax increases, re-defining other tax increases as “fees”, abuse of property rights, and now one more example of civil tort abuse run amok).
Unfortunately, Colorado voters failed to take advantage of their once-in-a-decade opportunity to hold these particular ‘unjust justices’ accountable for the actions – but the fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues. Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law. Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public. For both of those endeavors, we would appreciate your continued support – via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions. Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.