June 19, 2018 Practice Points

Court Rules on Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Litigants

The Colorado Supreme Court took on cases involving the statute of limitations and attorney-client privilege

by Jennifer Arnett-Roehrich

Damages available to first-party insureds under Colorado’s bad faith statute are not penalties to which a one-year statute of limitations would apply, and attorney affidavits that clarify facts only, without putting the attorney’s advice at issue, do not constitute an implied waiver of the privilege.

In Rooftop Restoration, Inc. v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., 2018 CO 44 (May 29, 2018), the Colorado Supreme Court held that the one-year statute of limitations that applies to penalties does not apply to claims brought under C.R.S. 10-3-1116, Colorado’s statutory cause of action for unreasonable delay or denial of benefits. Section 10-3-1116 provides that a first-party claimant whose claim for payment of benefits has been unreasonably delayed or denied may seek to recover attorney fees, costs, and two times the covered benefit, in addition to the covered benefit. A separate Colorado statute, CRS 13-80-103(1)(d) provides a one-year statute of limitations for “any penalty or forfeiture of any penal statutes.” To arrive at the conclusion that the double damages available under section 10-3-1116 is not a penalty, the court looked at yet another statutory provision, governing accrual of causes of action for penalties, which provides that a penalty cause of action accrues when “the determination of overpayment or delinquency . . . is no longer subject to appeal.” The court stated that because a cause of action under 10-3-1116 “never leads to a determination of overpayment or delinquency . . . the claim would never accrue, and the statute of limitations would be rendered meaningless.” Para. 15. Presumably, the default two-year statute of limitations, provided by CRS 13-80-102(1)(i), will now be found to apply to causes of action seeking damages for undue delay or denial of insurance benefits.

In a separate case, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the attorney-client privilege was not impliedly waived when former counsel for State Farm submitted an affidavit refuting factual allegations of the plaintiff. In In re Plaintiff: State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Defendants: Gary J. Griggs & Susan A. Goddard, 2018 CO 50, a State Farm adjuster had testified that a medical lien was in the amount of $264,075. After the testimony, State Farm’s attorney at the time discovered that the lien was actually in the amount of $264.75. While the attorney was investigating the source of the error, plaintiff’s counsel moved to disqualify State Farm’s counsel (based on the attorney’s previous attorney-client relationship with the firm representing the plaintiff). The court disqualified the attorney. The new attorney for State Farm then disclosed the correct lien amount to plaintiff, and noted that the service provider was the source of the error. The plaintiff then sought sanctions against State Farm, in the form of a directed verdict on her bad faith claim, alleging that State Farm deliberately and intentionally concealed the correct lien information. In response, State Farm submitted an affidavit from the former attorney, which stated that at the time of his disqualification, he was still investigating the source of the lien error. The plaintiff argued that by submitting the attorney affidavit, State Farm put at issue the attorney’s advice. The Supreme Court disagreed, explaining that the mere possibility that privileged information may become relevant in a lawsuit is not enough to imply a waiver. Rather, the party asserting waiver “must show that the client asserted a claim or defense that depends on privileged information.” Para. 18. The Supreme Court found that the attorney affidavit did not refer to any claims or defenses, did not refer to advice provided by the attorney to State Farm, and was not offered in support of a claim or defense, but rather to rebut plaintiff’s factual argument. As such, the court concluded that “State Farm’s submission of the [attorney] affidavit did not place privileged communications at issue and, therefore, did not result in an implied waiver of the attorney-client privilege.” Para. 24.

Jennifer Arnett-Roehrich is with Gordon & Rees, Denver, CO.


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