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White v. Estate of Soto-Lerma

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Third Division

March 8, 2018

Fannie S. White, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant,
v.
Estate of Julian Soto-Lerma, deceased, Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.

         Arapahoe County District Court No. 15CV32971 Honorable Phillip L. Douglass, Judge

          Bosen Law, LLC, Stephen A. Justino, Denver, Colorado; Ronald R. Way, P.C., Ronald R. Way, Englewood, Colorado; Wilcox Law Firm, LLC, Ronald L. Wilcox, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant

          Senter Goldfarb & Rice, LLC, Arthur J. Kutzer, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee

          Ogborn Mihm, LLP, Thomas D. Neville, Denver, Colorado; The Gold Law Firm, LLC, Michael J. Rosenberg, Greenwood Village, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Trial Lawyers Association

          OPINION

          TERRY JUDGE.

          ¶ 1 In a suit against a decedent's estate, does the nonclaim statute, section 15-12-803(3)(b), C.R.S. 2017, allow a plaintiff to recover a judgment for prejudgment interest and costs above the limit of a liability insurance policy, even though the action was filed after expiration of the statutory period for presentation of claims? Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that the answer to this question is "no." And under these facts, we also conclude that the policy limit caps the plaintiff's recovery even where a jury awards damages in excess of a statutory offer of settlement.

         ¶ 2 Defendant, the Estate of Julian Soto-Lerma, appeals and plaintiff, Fannie S. White, cross-appeals the trial court's judgment awarding plaintiff damages in a negligence action. We reverse the judgment and remand for the trial court to reduce the amount of damages awarded to conform to the applicable policy limits, and to eliminate the award of costs.

         I. Background

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff's claim arose from a car accident that occurred about a year before decedent died from unrelated causes. More than two years after decedent's death, plaintiff filed suit, asserting that decedent had been negligent. Decedent's estate consisted solely of his automobile insurance policy, which had a policy limit of $50, 000 per person injured in an automobile accident.

         ¶ 4 Defendant rejected plaintiff's pretrial statutory offer of settlement for the insurance policy limit of $50, 000. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor, awarding $100, 000 in damages. The court reduced the jury's award of damages to $50, 000, consistent with plaintiff's representation at trial that she was only seeking damages in the amount of the insurance policy limit. Nevertheless, the court ultimately entered judgment for $79, 218, which included $50, 000 in damages, $11, 600 in costs, and $17, 618 in prejudgment interest.

         ¶ 5 Defendant appeals the award of prejudgment interest and costs under section 15-12-803(3). Plaintiff cross-appeals, arguing that the trial court should have entered judgment in the entire amount of the jury's verdict.

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶ 6 We review statutory provisions de novo. Shelby Res., LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, 160 P.3d 387, 389 (Colo.App. 2007). In interpreting a statute, our primary goals are to discern and give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Krol v. CF & I Steel, 2013 COA 32, ¶ 15. We look first to the statutory language, giving the words and phrases used therein their plain and ordinary meanings. Id. We read the language in the dual contexts of the statute as a whole and the comprehensive statutory scheme, giving consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all of the statute's language. Id. ...


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