General Assembly gets 'B' grade for 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

With one notable exception, the Colorado General Assembly's 2017 session preserved the status quo - which isn't the worst outcome, given the potential of certain bills to wreak havoc upon Colorado's litigation climate.

So, Colorado Civil Justice League rates the Legislature's performance as a "B," with it's passage of House Bill 1279, addressing construction litigation, as the notable achievement.

Sponsored by Rep. Alec Garnett (D-Denver), Rep. Lori Saine (R-Firestone), Sen. Jack Tate (R-Centennial) and Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), HB 1279 was the product of many hours of work including a much larger coalition of lawmakers from both parties, as well as advocates representing homeowners and homebuilders.

While not as ambitious as we might have hoped, the bill nonetheless moves the ball forward by ensuring that homeowners are fully informed of costs and risks and given a formal voice in determining whether to initiate litigation to resolve alleged defective construction.

Anything that makes it more difficult for a cadre of plaintiffs attorneys to steamroll HOA members down the path toward litigation is an improvement over the status quo, which has construction of multi-family owner-occupied projects crawling at a snail's pace.

The bill didn't specifically address affordability of contractor's liability insurance or the rampant litigation that ensues between developers and subcontractors when a construction lawsuit is filed. One school of thought says that HB 1279 will help with insurance affordability by making claims more predictable for underwriters. A more skeptical outlook is that the cost of litigation will continue to drive up insurance costs until those issues are specifically addressed. Only time will tell which viewpoint is more accurate.

Building on the success of HB 1279, the most encouraging development from this session is the growing coalition of legislators who value economic growth for all Coloradans above the narrow interests of personal injury lawyers and a handful of plaintiffs.

Bipartisan votes were instrumental in advancing worthwhile bills or defeating others that invited further lawsuit abuse.

The Senate passed - with bipartisan support - a package of bills to help consumers control the rising cost of automobile insurance, only to see those bills fail in the House. However, key Representatives stood up to vote against, and sometimes defeat, destructive legislation that would have eroded Colorado's safeguards against runaway jury awards for "pain and suffering" or other non-economic damages and subjected schools, nonprofits, businesses and local governments to increased litigation for various claims.

A complete list of bills related to Colorado's civil justice system appears below, followed by a link to each bill's summary and legislative history.

 

Ban-the-box still bad policy, despite improvements

Monday, April 24, 2017

Significant changes to this year's version of "Ban the Box" (House Bill 1305) have reduced the specter of litigation by potential employees, and for that sponsors Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette) and Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Denver) deserve credit.

However, businesses use questions about criminal history for a variety of reasons - not simply because they don't want ex-cons in the workplace.

Employers ask for criminal history to protect employees and customers and to avoid litigation. Employers often owe a duty of reasonable care to both employees and customers to avoid personal harm to either. Courts often hold employers liable for criminal or intentional harm caused by an employee when, in they eyes of a jury with 20/20 hindsight, it was "reasonably foreseeable" that some type of harm or injury could result from hiring or retaining an employee with a criminal history.

That's why employers use questions about criminal history to fulfill their duty of care to other employees and to customers. And that's why Colorado Civil Justice League remains OPPOSED to HB 1305.

 

House advances construction lawsuit reform, nixes homeless right to sue

Saturday, April 22, 2017

House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rubber-stamped a bipartisan agreement to make it more difficult for trial lawyers to bullrush homeowner associations into construction defects lawsuits, passing House Bill 1279 (SUPPORT) on a unanimous vote after adopting several amendments.

The bill would require a majority of homeowners in an association to give written consent before a construction lawsuit could proceed. Homeowners would also be fully apprised of the potential costs and risks of litigation. Provisions mandating mediation or arbitration were deleted from the bill.
 
 
As a result, Colorado law will continue to allow plaintiffs and their attorneys to collect "phantom damages" on medical bills that do not reflect the true cost of treatment and to receive 8% or 9% interest per year on those claims.
 
Ironically, one of the witnesses arguing against SB 181 acknowledged that his medical finance business would cease to exist if clients could no longer sue for phantom damages.
 
Simultaneously, House Local Government Committee endured a 10-hour hearing on a single bill, Rep. Joe Salazar's (D-Thornton) perennial "Right to Rest Act" - aka, the Homeless Right to Sue.
 
Citing the potential for expansive litigation against local governments, Reps. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver) and Matt Gray (D-Broomfield) courageously voted against the bill, joined by the committee's six Republicans.
Representatives of cities testified that the bill would strike down bans on "urban camping," thereby depriving the public of safe use of city parks and denying customers access to businesses.
 
Unpersuaded by concerns of people who want to enjoy clean parks funded by taxpayers and to shop safely, Rep. Salazar took to social media to condemn his own colleagues for not marching in lockstep with his prescription.