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Garcia v. Colorado Cab Company LLC

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

January 10, 2019

Jose Garcia, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Colorado Cab Company LLC, a Colorado limited liability company, d/b/a Denver Yellow Cab, Defendant-Appellant.

          City and County of Denver District Court No. 16CV30746 Honorable A. Bruce Jones, Judge

          Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher, LLP, Daniel S. Foster, Laura M. Martinez, Chip G. Schoneberger, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          White and Steele, PC, John M. Lebsack, Keith R. Olivera, Dmitry B. Vilner, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          J. JONES, JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Jose Garcia sued Colorado Cab Company for negligence after a person who had been a passenger in one of Colorado Cab's taxis assaulted him on the street. The district court ruled that Colorado Cab owed a duty of care to Garcia. A jury determined that Colorado Cab had breached that duty of care and awarded damages. We conclude that, as a matter of law, Colorado Cab didn't owe a duty of care to Garcia. So we reverse the judgment and remand the case for entry of judgment for Colorado Cab.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 Late one night, cab driver Ali Yusuf picked up Curt Glinton and Glinton's friend in Denver. The passengers, both of whom were apparently intoxicated, didn't (and perhaps couldn't) give Yusuf an address to which to drive, but instead told him where and when to turn. When they got to 44th Avenue and Tejon Street, Glinton told Yusuf to stop. Yusuf did so, but when he told the passengers the fare was $6.50, Glinton yelled and cursed at Yusuf, who explained the fare and told Glinton to pay. Glinton then grabbed and punched Yusuf from behind. (There wasn't a partition between the front and back seats. There was a panic button, but Yusuf wasn't able to press it.)

         ¶ 3 Before all this unfolded, Garcia, sitting in his brother's house near the intersection of 39th Avenue and Tejon Street, had called for a cab. Some time later, sitting inside the home, looking out the window, he thought he saw a taxi drive by. (It was dark, so he wasn't sure what company the taxi was from.) Thinking it might be the taxi for which he had called, he followed it for about "two, three blocks."[1] As it turned out, this was Yusuf's cab. When Garcia got closer, he saw the stopped taxi and could hear Glinton and Yusuf arguing. He approached the taxi, asked what was going on, told Glinton to leave Yusuf alone, and told Glinton and Yusuf to stop fighting. Glinton told Garcia to "mind [his] own fucking business." Glinton and Yusuf got out of the cab. Garcia again told Glinton and Yusuf to stop fighting. Glinton then apparently attacked Garcia, who testified that he didn't remember fighting back.

         ¶ 4 Garcia was hit from behind on the head. (He wasn't sure who hit him.) Glinton got in the driver's seat of the taxi and sped off. But before going too far, he abruptly turned around and drove toward Garcia and Yusuf, who were standing in a parking lot entry lane. Glinton swerved toward Garcia and Yusuf. Yusuf jumped out of the way, but Glinton hit Garcia with the taxi, ran him over, and dragged him down the street.

         ¶ 5 Garcia's injuries were extensive - they included shattered ear drums, a traumatic brain injury, a fractured eye socket, three broken ribs, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, other torn ligaments, and more injuries causing hip and back pain. To recover for these injuries, Garcia sued Colorado Cab and Yusuf.[2] As to Colorado Cab, he alleged that the company's negligent failure to take safety measures, such as installing partitions and security cameras in the taxi, caused his injuries. He also asserted a claim of unjust enrichment against Colorado Cab.

         ¶ 6 Colorado Cab moved for summary judgment, arguing that it didn't owe Garcia a duty of care and that any breach of such a duty hadn't proximately caused Garcia's injuries as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Colorado Cab twice moved for a directed verdict based on the same arguments; the court denied those motions as well.

         ¶ 7 The jury found in Garcia's favor on the negligence claim, and the court entered judgment against Colorado Cab. The district court denied Colorado Cab's subsequent motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, reasoning that a common-carrier/passenger relationship between Colorado Cab and Garcia gave rise to a duty of care; Colorado Cab owed a duty of care to Yusuf, as an employee; and, because of the duty of care owed to Yusuf, the "rescue doctrine" also supported imposing liability on the company.

         II. Discussion

         ¶ 8 Colorado Cab appeals the district court's determination that it owed Garcia a duty of care, the decision to submit the issue of proximate cause to the jury, and the denial of its motion for post-verdict setoff of Garcia's medical bills that were covered by Medicaid.[3] Because we conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, Colorado Cab didn't owe Garcia a duty of ...


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