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Wolven v. del Rosario Velez.

2024 COA 8. No. 22CA2120. Personal Injury—Admissibility of Healthcare Provider Liens—Applicability of American Medical Association Impairment Ratings—Limiting Instruction.

January 18, 2024

Defendant del Rosario Velez (Velez) failed to stop at a stop sign and collided with Wolven’s vehicle. Wolven was diagnosed with several long-term spinal and neck injuries resulting from the crash. Wolven sued Velez for these injuries, and a jury found in Wolven’s favor, awarding her $450,264 for noneconomic and injury losses, $500,000 for economic losses, and $1,003,179 for physical impairments. The trial court entered judgment for the total award in damages.

On appeal, Velez contended that the trial court erred by allowing Wolven’s expert to testify about Wolven’s whole person permanent impairment rating calculated under the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (5th ed. 2001) (AMA Guides) because the AMA Guides’ impairment ratings are only relevant in the workers’ compensation context. While CRS § 8-42-107(8)(b.5) requires use of the AMA Guides in workers’ compensation cases, neither it nor any other Colorado statute prohibits admission of AMA Guides evidence in cases not involving workers’ compensation. Here, the impairment rating evidence based on the AMA Guides, admitted through an expert, was relevant and not unfairly prejudicial. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the evidence.

Velez also argued that the trial court should have given the jury a limiting instruction on how impairment ratings are calculated, or about their use in workers’ compensation cases, and that the jury could not reliably calculate Wolven’s damages without such instruction. However, the trial court did not inaccurately inform the jury of the law by refusing to include an instruction defining physical impairment. Moreover, there is no Colorado Pattern Civil Jury Instruction available that could have informed the trial court on a limiting instruction detailing how the AMA Guides calculate impairment ratings; Velez did not propose one of her own; and there is no authority indicating that the trial court needed to provide such an instruction. Further, issuing a separate limiting instruction detailing that the jury must consider that workers’ compensation cases treat physical impairment damages differently than personal injury cases do would be irrelevant and confusing. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to give a limiting instruction.

Velez further contended that the trial court erred by retroactively applying CRS § 38-27.5-103(2) to exclude evidence of Wolven’s healthcare provider lien from trial, despite the lien’s pretrial amendment to conform with the statute. Under CRS § 38-27.5-103(2), as long as a healthcare provider lien agreement conforms with the statute when it is created or amended, it must be excluded from trial. Here, the application of CRS § 38-27.5-103(2)’s protections did not require a retroactive application of the statute, and evidence of the amended lien was properly excluded.

The court of appeals also determined that the trial court’s order on the verdict mistakenly totaled the jury’s verdict to be $1,954,443 instead of $1,953,443.

The jury verdict and the judgment were affirmed. The case was remanded with directions to recalculate the damages award.

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

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