Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Nov. 16

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Gresser v. Banner Health

Banner Health appealed the $39,845,196.83 judgment against it due to its alleged breach of duty of care in the case of the plaintiffs. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s judgment. 

C.G. was born at Banner Health. Late on the second day of her life, C.G. was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she received antibiotics to treat a possible infection. The following morning, lab results confirmed that C.G. had an E. coli infection. By that time, C.G. had developed sepsis. As a result of the sepsis, she suffered irreversible neurological injuries, including cerebral palsy and cognitive and developmental delays. 

The Gressers alleged that nurses employed by Banner Health breached their duty of care by failing to timely notify C.G.’s physicians that C.G. was exhibiting signs of sepsis, and that such failure resulted in delayed treatment and caused C.G.’s injuries. The jury found that Banner Health was negligent and that its negligence was the proximate cause of C.G.’s injuries. The jury awarded the Gressers damages totaling $27,647,274.23, which included past and future medical and other health care expenses to 2075, as well as lost future wages from 2038 to 2070. 

After the jury rendered its verdict, the trial court determined it was appropriate to lift the $1 million cap imposed by the Health Care Availability Act. The trial court concluded that its application of the cap was “binary.” It was required either to impose the $1 million cap or enter a judgment in the amount that the jury had calculated for past and future economic damages. It chose the latter option and entered the full amount the jury had awarded. 

The court entered a total judgment of $39,845,196.83, consisting of the jury’s award and pre- and post-filing interest. 

The appeals court disagreed with the trial court’s reading of the HCAA. The appeals court held that, after making the necessary findings to exceed the statutory 3 cap, a trial court may, but is not required to, award additional damages in the amount that the jury determined. 

To determine the scope of that discretion, the court examined the case law governing judicial review of jury damages awards. Under that case law, a court possesses the authority to set aside a jury’s award of damages if the award was “grossly and manifestly excessive,” according to the Colorado Supreme Court’s 1968 ruling in Bohlender v. Oster. 

The court ruled that although the trial court erred by characterizing its available options as “binary,” it undertook the correct analysis before adopting the jury’s calculation of additional past and future economic damages. The court also rejected Banner Health’s other claims of error and affirmed the decision. 

Perez v. By the Rockies 

Samuel Perez appealed the district court’s ruling that there was a two-year statute of limitations on his Colorado Minimum Wage Act claim against By the Rockies. The court reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. Judge Fox dissented with the ruling. 

Between 2016 and 2017, Perez worked for By the Rockies as an hourly employee at a fast-food restaurant. Five years later, in 2022, he filed a claim for relief pursuant to the Minimum Wage Act, asserting that By the Rockies had failed to provide him and other employees required meal and rest breaks during their shifts.

By the Rockies moved to dismiss Perez’s complaint as untimely. By the Rockies acknowledged that because the Minimum Wage Act contains no limitations period, the applicable statute of limitations could default to the six-year limitations period in section 13-80-103.5 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. However, By the Rockies argued that the court should apply the limitations period set out in the Colorado Wage Claim Act (imposing a two- or three-year limitations period depending on whether the violation was willful) based on the nature of Perez’s claim. The district court agreed. Reasoning that the shorter limitations period contained in the Wage Claim Act applied, the court dismissed Perez’s complaint as untimely. Perez appealed the decision. 

The court concluded that the applicable limitations period is six years pursuant to section 13-80-103.5, because that statute applies generally to debts for determinable amounts. In doing so, the court rejected the argument that the two-year limitations period in a different act, the Colorado Wage Claim Act, applies to Minimum Wage Act claims. The court concluded that the statute of limitations in the Wage Claim Act is limited by its plain language to Wage Claim Act claims and does not apply to Minimum Wage Act claims. 

The court reversed the district court’s judgment that applied the Wage Claim Act’s two-year limitations period in dismissing the claim. 

Judge Terry Fox’s Dissent 

Judge Terry Fox dissented. Fox found the federal court’s reasoning in Balle-Tun v. Zeng & Wong, Inc., highly persuasive. 

Fox also wrote that, by applying her reading of Regional Transportation District v. Voss led her to conclude that, because articles 4 and 6 are part of title 8, it is more appropriate to apply the limitations period in section 8-4-122 of Colorado law to claims brought under article 6 than to apply a limitations period from a different title.

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