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Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co.

2021 COA 129. No. 17CA1381.  Negligence—Rescue Doctrine—Duty of Care—Proximate Cause.

October 28, 2021

Yusuf was a driver for Colorado Cab Company LLC (Colorado Cab). Late one night, Yusuf picked up defendant and defendant’s friend, who were both intoxicated. When they arrived at the destination, defendant refused to pay the fare and assaulted Yusuf. Garcia was waiting for a cab in a nearby house when he saw he saw Yusuf’s cab drive by. Thinking it might be the taxi he had called for, Garcia approached Yusuf’s cab. Garcia observed the altercation and repeatedly told defendant to pay the fare and leave Yusuf alone. Defendant attacked Garcia, and during the scuffle, Garcia was hit in the head. Defendant then got in the taxi and sped off, hitting Garcia’s knee as he left. Defendant turned the cab around, aiming his vehicle at Yusuf and Garcia. Yusuf avoided the taxi, but defendant hit Garcia, ran him over, and dragged him into a parking lot. Defendant backed up, ran over Garcia again, and chased Yusuf around a utility pole two or three times before driving off again. Garcia’s injuries were extensive, and he sued Colorado Cab for negligence. A jury found that Colorado Cab breached its duty of care and awarded Garcia $1,605,000 in damages (the jury allocated 45% of the fault to Colorado Cab and 55% to defendant).

On appeal, Colorado Cab argued that the district court erred by allowing the jury to consider whether Colorado Cab breached its duty of care to Yusuf by failing to install partitions and interior cameras in its cabs. Here, the record of assaults on Colorado Cab’s drivers during the period before this incident sufficiently supported the jury’s finding that Colorado Cab breached its duty to protect Yusuf from a passenger assault by failing to install partitions and interior cameras. And Garcia’s status as a rescuer entitled him to vicariously claim Colorado Cab’s duty to Yusuf. Therefore, the district court did not err.

Colorado Cab also argued that the district court erred by allowing the jury to determine whether Colorado Cab’s breach of duty to Yusuf was the cause of Garcia’s injuries. It maintained that, as a matter of law, its alleged breach of duty wasn’t the factual or proximate cause of Garcia’s claimed injuries because defendant’s intentional criminal acts broke the causation chain. Because Garcia was a rescuer, the question before the Court of Appeals became whether the risk of harm to Garcia could have been reasonably anticipated from the rescue attempt. Here, the jury reasonably could have concluded that the harm suffered by Garcia when defendant got out of the cab and assaulted him was not different from the harm to be expected to arise from an attempted rescue of a cab driver being assaulted by a passenger. However, defendant’s conduct in stealing the cab and using it as a weapon was a superseding cause of the resulting injuries Garcia suffered because it wasn’t a risk of harm that could have been anticipated from the rescue attempt. Therefore, the jury could reasonably have found that Colorado Cab was liable for the injuries Garcia suffered when defendant assaulted him as they fought outside the cab, but not for those he suffered when defendant later ran him down with the stolen cab. But the record here does not allow for a determination of the damages attributable only to defendant’s initial assault on Garcia.

Colorado Cab also contended that the district court erred by refusing to set off the jury’s damages award by the amount of Medicaid paid toward Garcia’s medical bills. Under Court precedent, Colorado Cab isn’t entitled to a setoff for the Medicaid payments.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The case was remanded for a new trial on damages, limited to the issues of Garcia’s damages incurred as a result of defendant’s initial assault on him outside the cab and Colorado Cab’s percentage of fault for that injury.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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