Pisano v. Manning.
2022 COA 22. No. 19CA2352. Personal Injury—Noneconomic Damages—Statutory Cap—Exceptional Circumstances.
February 17, 2022
Defendant rear-ended plaintiff’s car while plaintiff was stopped in traffic. Defendant admitted fault for the accident. Plaintiff sought economic, noneconomic, and physical impairment damages. The jury declined to award damages for physical impairment but awarded $1.548 million in noneconomic damages. Defendant filed a post-trial motion to limit the noneconomic damages award in accordance with the CRS §13-21-102.5(3)(a) damages cap, and plaintiff requested that the trial court exceed the statutory cap and award her the maximum allowable amount of $936,030. The trial court granted defendant’s motion, denied plaintiff’s motion, and limited the noneconomic damages to the statutory cap of $468,010.
On appeal, plaintiff contended that the court applied an incorrect legal standard in determining whether to exceed the statutory cap by requiring a showing of “exceptional circumstances.” Under the statute’s plain language, the standard limit on noneconomic damages is $250,000, or $468,010 as adjusted for inflation. The court must find a reason, by clear and convincing evidence, to award damages above this limit and has broad discretion in determining how much of an increase is appropriate in a given case. Here, the trial court applied the correct legal standard in determining whether to award damages in excess of the statutory cap and did not abuse its discretion in declining to exceed the statutory cap.
Plaintiff also argued that even if the court applied the correct legal standard, it nonetheless abused its discretion by not finding exceptional circumstances to award her the maximum amount of $936,030. Exceeding the statutory cap is permissive, not mandatory, so the decision whether to exceed the cap is within the trial court’s discretion. Here, the jury found that plaintiff suffered no compensable physical impairments, including no cognitive impairment, as a result of the accident. Further, plaintiff argued at trial that her noneconomic injuries arose directly from her physical impairments. Therefore, the court’s decision not to award damages in excess of the cap was not so arbitrary or unreasonable as to be irrational.
The order was affirmed.