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Sharon v. Scc Pueblo Belmont Operating Company, LLC

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

December 5, 2019

Leland Sharon, as Co-Special Administrator of the Estate of James Edmond Sharon, and Joyce Jones, as Co-Special Administrator of the Estate of James Edmond Sharon, Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
v.
SCC Pueblo Belmont Operating Company, LLC, d/b/a Belmont Lodge Health Care Center, and SavaSeniorCare, Consulting LLC, Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants.

          Pueblo County District Court No. 13CV30574 Honorable Jill S. Mattoon, Judge.

          Reddick Moss, PLLC, Brent L. Moss, Brian D. Reddick, Robert W. Francis, Little Rock, Arkansas, for Plaintiffs-Appellants and Cross-Appellees

          Gordon & Rees, LLP, John R. Mann, Thomas B. Quinn, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants

          JUDGMENT AFFIRMED

          J. JONES JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 Colorado's survival statute, section 13-20-101, C.R.S. 2019, provides that a person's claims against another (except those for slander or libel) survive that person's death. But the damages a decedent's representative can recover may be limited: as now relevant, a representative can recover damages for economic losses but can't recover damages for the decedent's "pain, suffering, or disfigurement" if the action is one for personal injuries. So if a person brings a personal injury action but dies before recovery of damages, the result under the statute is plain enough - the representative can recover damages for loss of earnings and expenses, but not damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement. Likewise, when a person brings such an action and recovers damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement before he dies, he dies while the judgment is on appeal, and the judgment is later affirmed on appeal, the result is equally plain - the previous recovery stands. But what if, in the latter situation, the judgment isn't affirmed but is instead reversed on appeal? Can the decedent's representative recover damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement in the event of a new trial? This case presents that question.

         ¶ 2 Relying on the statute's plain language, as well as settled law on the effect of a reversed judgment, we answer that question "no." We therefore affirm the district court's judgment for defendants, SSC Pueblo Belmont Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Belmont Lodge Health Care Center (Belmont Lodge), and its affiliate SavaSeniorCare Consulting, LLC (Consulting), and against plaintiffs, Leland Sharon and Joyce Jones, as co-special administrators of James Edward Sharon's estate.

         I. Background

         ¶ 3 Mr. Sharon suffered multiple ailments during his stay at Belmont Lodge, a nursing facility. He sued Belmont Lodge; Consulting; and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC (Administrative Services) for negligence.[1] A jury ruled in Mr. Sharon's favor, finding that all three defendants operated the nursing facility as a joint venture, and that, as a joint venture, they had been negligent. But, pursuant to the court's instruction, the jury didn't determine which particular defendant had been negligent. It awarded Mr. Sharon noneconomic ($300, 000) and punitive ($3, 000, 000) damages on his negligence claim based primarily on his pain and suffering.[2]

         ¶ 4 Defendants appealed. They contended that Administrative Services and Consulting couldn't be liable to Mr. Sharon as joint venturers and didn't independently owe him a duty of care. During that appeal, Mr. Sharon died, and the current plaintiffs were substituted as the plaintiffs in the case. A division of this court reversed the judgment, concluding that a joint venture didn't exist between defendants and that Administrative Services didn't owe an independent duty of care to Mr. Sharon. Because the division wasn't able to determine from the jury's verdict if the jury had found any particular defendant independently negligent, the division reversed the entire judgment and ordered a retrial of Mr. Sharon's negligence claim against only Belmont Lodge and Consulting. Sharon v. SCC Pueblo Belmont Operating Co., (Colo.App. No. 14CA2006, Sept. 8, 2016) (not published pursuant to C.A.R. 35(e)).

         ¶ 5 On remand, Belmont Lodge and Consulting moved for summary judgment and for a determination of a question of law, arguing that under Colorado's survival statute, the representatives could not recover noneconomic or punitive damages, the only types of damages Mr. Sharon had sought. Ultimately, the district court agreed with them, and after plaintiffs stipulated that they sought only noneconomic and punitive damages, the court entered judgment for Belmont Lodge and Consulting.

         II. Discussion

         ¶ 6 Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred by applying the survival statute, for two primary reasons. First, they say that applying this statute in these circumstances allows "the very same common law result that the survival statute was intended to modify." Second, they argue that under the language of the statute, the restrictions on recovery don't apply where a party recovers before dying, even if that judgment is later reversed on appeal.

         ¶ 7 We ...


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