Paul Collins, Carol Thomson win coverage appeal on no duty to defend § 1983 claims

Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals announced its opinion upholding a summary judgment grant in favor of TAM Managing Shareholder Paul E. Collins and Shareholder Carol L. Thomson‘s client.

After having won the coverage decision at the trial court level in Jefferson County, the City of Lakewood appealed claiming that its employer’s liability and worker’s compensation insurer had an obligation to defend and indemnify Lakewood from a suit brought by the widow of a Lakewood police officer killed in the line of duty.  Because she claimed Lakewood was liable for his death under § 1983, the carrier denied the tender.

A § 1983 claim, otherwise known as 42 USC § 1983, creates governmental liability for injuries caused by a government actor’s deprivation of someone’s constitutional rights.  While Lakewood argued that such a claim fell within policy definitions of injury during employment, the Court of Appeals in its unanimous opinion rejected any notion that § 1983 creates a private cause of action, and also turned aside an argument that § 1983 abrogates the policy distinctions between types of claims which were specifically excluded from coverage.

The case is City of Lakewood v. Safety National Casualty Corporation, — P.3d —-, 2017 WL 929213 (Colo App. March 09, 2017).  The opinion is selected for official publication, but in the meantime a copy of it can be found here.