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Owners Insurance Co. v. Stahl

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 5, 2019

OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, an Ohio corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES STAHL, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 130) and Defendant Mr. James Stahl's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 129). For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. FACTUAL HISTORY

         It is undisputed that on October 29, 2016, Defendant Mr. James Stahl (“Stahl”) and Ms. Karen Zohar (“Zohar”), a third party, were involved in a car accident in Colorado on I-70 West. (Doc. # 88 at 3.) Zohar was driving her personal vehicle and she carried $50, 000 in bodily injury liability coverage. (Doc. # 81 at 2.) Stahl was driving a work vehicle that was insured by Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company (“Owners”) with a $1, 000, 000 underinsured motorist policy and a $35, 000 medical payments coverage policy. After the accident, both vehicles pulled to the side of the road. (Doc. # 81 at 2.) Other than minor paint scratches, there was no damage to the vehicles. (Id. at 14.) Neither party alerted emergency responders. (Id.)

         However, the parties do dispute what happened during the accident and who was responsible for the collision. Stahl alleges that Zohar caused the accident when her car crossed “several lanes of traffic” and struck Stahl's vehicle. (Doc. # 81 at 17.) In addition, Stahl claims that the impact from this caused his vehicle to “turn 90 degrees to the left” and tilt up on two wheels. (Id.) Owners, citing Zohar's deposition, denies these allegations. (Id. at 19.) Zohar explains that she heard a “loud popping sound” and felt her vehicle swerve. (Id.) Thinking that she may have popped a tire, she pulled to the side of the road. Only after Stahl pulled to the side of the road too did Zohar realize that their vehicles had collided. Based on an accident reconstruction report commissioned by Owners, the delta-V change in speed between the two vehicles was two miles per hour or less. (Doc. # 81 at 14.) According to the report, the change in velocity that Stahl and Zohar experienced as a result of their vehicles colliding is less than “a typical bumper car ride.” (Id.) Furthermore, one of Owners' experts concluded that Stahl caused the accident when he rear-ended Zohar. (Id. at 20.)

         Eleven days after the accident, Stahl sought medical treatment for pain in his neck. (Doc. # 130 at 13.) Stahl's x-rays showed chronic degenerative changes to the C5-6 and C6-7 parts of his spine, which he eventually had surgery to correct. (Id. at 14.) Stahl claims that his neck surgery and permanent spinal injuries were a result of the collision with Zohar. (Doc. # 88 at 3.) Stahl calculated his total losses as a result of the collision at $875, 000. (Id. at 5.)

         Eventually, Zohar's insurance company admitted liability for the accident and paid Stahl $50, 000, which was the maximum amount allowed under her policy. (Doc. # 136 at 2.) Stahl then submitted a claim to Owners for $825, 000-the outstanding amount of his losses not covered by Zohar's policy. (Doc. # 88 at 7.) On January 29, 2018, Owners told Stahl that his claim was denied. (Id. at 7.)

         B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Owners then initiated the instant case, seeking declaratory judgment that Stahl was not entitled to receive either underinsured motorist benefits or medical payments benefits (together, “Benefits”). (Doc. # 81.) Owners asserts three claims for this relief. First, Owners claims that Stahl was either negligent in causing the accident or that Stahl does not have damages in excess of $50, 000, both of which would render Stahl ineligible for Benefits. (Id. at 12-15.) Second, Owners asserts that, because Stahl failed to cooperate with Owners' investigation of the accident, Stahl violated Owners' policy and therefore invalidated any claim to Benefits. (Id. at 15-16.) Third, Owners alleges that Stahl made fraudulent statements regarding the accident, which also violated Owners' policy and invalidated Stahl's claim to Benefits. (Id. at 16-23.)

         Stahl filed an Answer and Counter Claims on March 28, 2019. (Doc. # 88.) Notably, Stahl seeks to recover Benefits under Owners' insurance policy, and he asserts six claims for relief. (Id.) First, Stahl alleges that Owners breached its contract when it determined that he was not eligible for Benefits. (Id. at 15-17.) Second, Stahl asserts that Owners breached its common law duty of good faith and fair dealing. (Id. at 17-20.) Third, Stahl claims that Owners violated a Colorado statute that prohibits insurance companies from unreasonably denying insureds their benefits. (Id. at 21.) Stahl's fourth, fifth, and sixth claims for relief allege that Owners committed fraud in violation of a Colorado statute, Owners abused the judicial process by committing malicious prosecution, and Owners violated other Colorado laws, respectively. (Id. at 21-25.)

         During this time, Magistrate Judge S. Kato Crews established pre-trial deadlines for the disclosure of experts. Initially, both parties were to disclose affirmative experts by November 14, 2018. See (Doc. # 62 at 2). Stahl requested an extension, which the magistrate judge granted, extending the deadline for disclosure of affirmative experts until January 28, 2019. (Doc. # 64.) Three days before this extended deadline, Stahl again requested an extension. (Doc. # 70.) The magistrate judge concluded that Stahl had not demonstrated good cause for a second extension. (Doc. # 80.) Stahl did not submit any experts by the January 28, 2019 deadline.

         Instead, more than ninety days after the deadline, in the absence of a court order and without first seeking leave of the court, Stahl served Owners with his expert disclosures. (Doc. # 135 at 4.) Magistrate Judge Crews granted Owners' motion to exclude these experts (Doc. # 107), and this Court affirmed the magistrate judge's Order (Doc. # 143). This means that Stahl has no affirmative experts to prove his claims.

         However, Stahl had an opportunity to disclose a rebuttal witness. Owners amended its original complaint to include a new claim that, through his negligence, Stahl caused the car accident. (Doc. # 81 at 12.) Therefore, the magistrate judge allowed Stahl to disclose one rebuttal expert on the limited issue of whether Zohar or Stahl caused the accident. (Doc. # 113.) But instead of narrowly tailoring the expert disclosure report to fit within the magistrate judge's parameters, Stahl simply re-endorsed one of his affirmative experts and re-submitted that expert's comprehensive report. (Doc. # 118 at 8.) This report ...


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