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.