We’re happy to report a verdict of $2.4 million on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Our client, Rick Hartkopp, is a 65 year old construction site superintendent who grew up on a farm in Iowa. His family taught him from a young age to help without complaining and live for the people around him. Rick learned that “if you can walk, you can work.” He unlearned how to complain about his own problems, ever. To Rick, hiding his pain or sorrow became an act of love for those around him–especially for his grandchildren. And minimizing his pain became an act of respect for those he saw who had it worse.
Through the years, Rick spent his time taking care of his family, building and maintaining his family’s home, and enjoying the Great Outdoors like so many of us here in Colorado. He helped mentor his children into becoming kind and thoughtful adults. He became a grandfather, and his grandchildren became one of the most important parts of his life. Rick earned the nickname “Silly Papa.” He’d travel often to spend time with his family and close friends. He’d often go to the Boundary Waters for pack-and-paddle trips or the San Juan Mountains to hunt elk and carry them out on foot. He was healthy, and he maintained his health with annual visits to the doctor and occasional visits to his longtime chiropractor for muscle strains, soreness, or just stress. Those chiropractic visits would later become fodder for Rick’s insurance company’s wrongful denial of his claim.
In February of 2019, Rick was struck by an uninsured motorist on I-25 at 60 mph. Rick’s vehicle was totaled, pushed into the concrete median, but his first thought was for his daughter in the passenger seat. Rick did not go by ambulance and didn’t go to a doctor until 8 days later. He tried chiropractic and physical therapy, but he plateaued. He was then recommended for injections and other pain management procedures in his neck and low back. They gave him relief–even if temporary and even if not total relief–and he’d gotten a few rounds of each by the time of trial. Rick had racked up about $70k in medical bills by January of 2023. But thankfully, Rick had Uninsured Motorist coverage with State Farm, and he’d chosen the careful route of paying for a high coverage amount and an additional “umbrella” for many years before the crash. He trusted he’d be protected.
At first, State Farm paid Rick’s medical bills like they were supposed to. They paid for every type of procedure Rick needed, and they admitted that everything was related to the crash (which, of course, it was).
But for some reason, State Farm stopped paying what they owed after January of 2023. All of a sudden, State Farm was now denying that Rick was hurt, denying he was hurt badly, denying that he needed the treatment they’d already paid for, denying that he needed any help into the future, and most importantly, denying any payments for Rick’s human losses (even though they admitted he had coverage for those losses).
In response to State Farm’s denials, attorney Laura Browne hired a practicing interventional pain management doctor to review Rick’s medical records from before and after the crash and then perform an independent medical examination of Rick. We chose someone State Farm has hired multiple times. The independent doctor agreed with Rick’s treating physicians, and found that Rick was 11% impaired.
Rick has a new normal; he lives in constant pain. Despite his best efforts to hide it, the people closest to him have noticed. His wife and daughter testified that he’s started hiring help for projects he’d take pride in doing. He went to Australia with his wife to meet and say goodbye to his dying grandson, suffering through pain on the flight and arriving to find he couldn’t even carry that baby because he didn’t feel stable enough. For a man who, only about a year before, carried his own gear and 150lbs of elk, on foot, out of the mountains, this was heartbreaking.
Despite all of this, Rick refused to take time off work, refused to stop traveling to spend time with his friends, refused to stop trying to do work around his home, and refused to let his family see his pain. He kept forcing himself to do everything. Whatever Rick lost from the crash, he refused to let it limit him. He rose to the challenge of his physical limitations by working on communicating better and opening up to the people closest to him. Rick also learned to open up with his jury, testifying truthfully about what he was going through and letting them see what he was actually going through, but never falling into self-pity and always keeping his eye on the truth. He took his injuries on as a challenge, like a second job. And he’s never given up.
Attorneys Laura Browne and Sean Dormer took the case to trial and asked a jury of Rick’s peers to decide that State Farm should have paid far more than it did. Laura handled opening statements, questioned the majority of the witnesses, and took lead in arguing multiple contested legal issues. Sean handled jury selection voir dire, questioned the remainder of the witnesses, and gave Rick’s closing argument.
After a weeklong trial, the jury began deliberating at 11 am on Friday, and returned a verdict by 4:30 pm. The jury verdict totaled $2.4 million, split among the following categories:
Noneconomic damages of $1.2 million. These were for past and future pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional distress, and impairment of the quality of life.
Economic damages of $800k for past and future medical expenses.
Physical impairment damages of $400k for the permanent damage to Rick’s body.
After the verdict was read, every single jury member came out and shook our hands and Rick’s hand. Most of them said good luck to him.
Laura and Sean both feel extraordinarily proud to have been able to represent Rick and tell his true story to such a dedicated and capable jury.