Colorado cap on monetary damages not unconstitutional, appeals court rules

Colorado Politics
Friday, December 22, 2023

The Colorado Constitution does not contain the right to a civil jury trial and the Seventh Amendment has not yet been applied to the states

Colorado's second-highest court last month rejected an attempt to declare the state's cap on certain monetary damages unconstitutional, noting it could not overturn prior federal and state Supreme Court decisions on the subject.

An Arapahoe County jury awarded Jacqueline Gebert $2.7 million in damages after a Sears repairman incorrectly rewired her stove and caused her electrocution. The trial judge slashed the amount to $1.57 million, applying a Colorado law generally limiting noneconomic damages — like pain and suffering — to $250,000, adjusted for inflation.

On appeal, Gebert argued the limitation violated the Seventh Amendment's right to a jury trial in civil cases. The cap effectively erodes the jury's ability to decide a plaintiff's case, she reasoned.

A three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals countered that Colorado's constitution provides no right to a civil jury trial and the U.S. Supreme Court has never extended the Seventh Amendment's guarantee to the states.…

While some state courts have struck down caps similar to Colorado's, they did so based on their own constitutional provisions. The Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School has called such limitations a "one-size-fits-all ceiling" that disproportionately harms the most severely injured plaintiffs.

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