Never in my nearly 20 years of practice as a trial lawyer has it been better to bring an injury action against an insurance defendant than right now. Truthfully, representing the interests of injury victims in the courts of Colorado throughout the 1990's and even into the early years of this decade were bleak times, at best, for our profession. The laws were against us, we were bumping up against limiting caps on damages, and juries were, to say the least, less than generous. We and our clients were regularly losing this "game" badly.
But slowly, around 2002-2003, there were beacons of light that began to shine onto our situation.
1) NO-FAULT PIP "Personal Injury Protection" BENEFITS WENT AWAY:
Some lawyers have the misguided opinion that when our No-Fault PIP laws went away in the summer of 2003, that this was a bad thing for the people of Colorado. It really wasn't. Other lawyers will feign sadness at the laws' death and suggest that these laws provided generous benefits to consumers. Truthfully, they didn't and for the most part they were a cornerstone of insurance industry domination, an abuse on the Colorado public, and they never worked as they were supposed to.
In truth, any trial lawyer who worked in the 1990's in Colorado personal injury law knows exactly what I am speaking of. These laws and their regulations were pure abuse on the Colorado public and the attorneys who advocated for them. In fact, as a trial lawyer suffering through anemic verdict after anemic verdict throughout the 1990's, I can tell you first hand that those benefits did much more harm than good for our clients.
PIP benefits kept verdicts down and scared off lawyers from even filing a lawsuit to defend the rights of their injured clients. On those rare occasions when we won, which required the jury to have the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job to carefully navigate through some of the most confusing jury instructions in the country, we usually won so little for our clients that it was hardly worth it.
These benefits were indeed a "large muddy work boot firmly on the top of collective heads" from the 1970's, when they were passed into law, until the summer of 2003 when they finally died. When that serpent was finally killed, it was a grand watershed moment for the Colorado consumer public and was terrific news for motor vehicle injury victims.
The abolishment of PIP armed trial lawyers with the right to seek the cost of past and future medical bills and wage loss for their clients who had needlessly been injured by dangerous drivers. Essentially, it opened up a whole host of opportunities for injury victims to get juries comfortable with awarding money in the economic category of damages again. That hadn't been the case in Colorado since the 1970's, prior to the passage of these horrible PIP laws.
Another trade secret that most trial lawyers will acknowledge as true (but only once you tell them that you know it too) is that getting a jury to put a generous sum in the economic damages category drives higher verdict amounts into the non-economic and permanent physical impairment categories of damages. Our verdicts, and therefore our settlements, with these insurance companies went virtually overnight from $5,000 to $50,000, and from $40,000 to $400,000.
We put these self-dealing insurance companies and the lawyers who represent them squarely on the ropes where they belonged and we haven't let them out yet.
2) LOOSENING UP THE CAPS ON DAMAGES:
Additional beacons of light started shining with the legislative loosening of caps on damages that could potentially be brought for severe injuries caused by the needless errors of medical doctors. While the caps are still too restrictive, every year the legislature seems more focused on these issues and has a realization of the importance of these consumer-related considerations that can only be effectuated with the lifting of these Reagan-era caps on damages.
3) MANDATORY MEDPAY:
Another beacon of light broke through with the legislation of mandatory MedPay for people injured in motor vehicle accidents. The legislation not only compelled people to purchase insurance of no less than $5,000 to pay for injuries of themselves or others in their vehicle, but to the chagrin of the insurance industry, they are now prevented from seeking reimbursement from their insured after a settlement with an at-fault party. So, basically MedPay is free money for medical care if your attorney is astute enough to ask for it.
4) UNREASONABLE DELAY AND DENIAL LAWS:
Another beacon of warm light which recently broke through was the passage of insurance industry reform requiring insurance companies to pay double their coverage limits should it be determined that they unreasonably delayed or denied an insurance claim. The legislature also imposed attorney fee obligations and a stiff interest rate on a self-dealing, unreasonably motivated insurance company.
5) REWRITING UNDERINSURED MOTORIST LAWS TO PERMIT STACKING OF BENEFITS:
Yet another beautiful beacon of light was the passing of legislation rewriting the extent of an injured person's entitlement through their own underinsured motorist coverage. This resulted in us being able to stack coverage without crediting the UIM insurance carrier with the value of the settled recovery from the at-fault driver's coverage. Ultimately, it has resulted in greatly increasing potential money and benefits for our clients.
6) LIMITING ABUSE IN HEALTHCARE SUBROGATION AND MEDICALS BILLED VERSUS PAID:
The latest powerful beacon of light was legislation that prevents the insurance company from taking credit for medical bills paid at a reduced rate by an injured person's health insurance. This new legislation also prevents the health insurance company from tying up proceeds indefinitely with disingenuous claims of subrogation.
Being on the forefront of these changes in the rules through legislation that is socially appropriate and consumer friendly has made it exciting to be a trial lawyer on the side of injury victims. I have never in my career been more excited to start each day of practice. Knowing and understanding these changes to Colorado law and their available benefits to my clients makes me proud to stand armed with that knowledge and ready to fight on a "level playing field" with these powerful insurance adversaries.
There is no question that in the last seven years we have taken a game that we were losing badly and changed the rules. I believe we are now in a position of strength in our profession as trial lawyers to be better advocates than ever for our injured clients.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we are excited about the work we do for our clients because we understand how to use the law to protect our client's rights and ensure they receive the compensation they deserve. If you have an attorney right now who is not excited about your case, he probably doesn't fully understand Colorado law. Contact us today so we can discuss with you how these changes can help your case.