Court: Colorado Supreme Court
Citation: 2021 CO 80
Opinion Date: December 13, 2021
Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury
This case law update is brought to you by Freeway Law auto accident and personal injury lawyers in Orange County. The following is not one of our cases, but it is of some significance, and we thought we should share it with our readers for informational purposes. The information above is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as legal advice.
In 2005, Alexander Rudnicki suffered serious injuries when OB-GYN Peter Bianco, D.O., negligently performed an operative vaginal delivery using a vacuum extractor to assist in the delivery. Alexander suffered injuries to his brain as a result of the trauma to his scalp and skull caused by the vacuum extraction. Alexander required ongoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy; he was intellectually disabled and enrolled in special education at school; and he was not likely to be able to live independently in the future. In 2014, Alexander’s parents, Francis and Pamela Rudnicki, in both their individual capacities and as parents, filed a complaint against Dr. Bianco and the hospital where Alexander was born, alleging, among other things, professional negligence by Dr. Bianco. Dr. Bianco moved to dismiss, asserting that Alexander’s parents did not bring their individual claims against him within the applicable statute of limitations. The district court agreed and dismissed the parents’ individual claims, and the case proceeded to trial with Alexander as the sole plaintiff. A jury ultimately found Dr. Bianco had acted negligently and awarded Alexander damages, including, among other things, sums for past and future medical expenses until Alexander reached the age of twenty-two. Dr. Bianco filed a post-trial motion to reduce this verdict, arguing that under Colorado common law, only Alexander’s parents could recover Alexander’s pre-majority medical expenses and, therefore, the court was required to deduct from the verdict the medical expenses incurred prior to Alexander’s eighteenth birthday. The district court ultimately agreed with Dr. Bianco and vacated the entirety of the jury’s award for past medical expenses, as well as sixty percent of the award for future medical expenses, concluding that the claim for pre-majority medical expenses belonged solely to Alexander’s parents, but their claim for such expenses had been dismissed as time-barred. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether to adhere to a common law rule under which only a minor plaintiff’s parents may recover tort damages for medical expenses incurred by their unemancipated minor child. The Supreme Court concluded the traditional rationales for the common law rule no longer applied, and that “the realities of today’s health care economy compel us to abandon that rule. Accordingly, we conclude that in cases involving an unemancipated minor child, either the child or their parents may recover the child’s pre-majority medical expenses, but double recovery is not permitted.”