Bushnell v. Sapp

Decision Date21 November 1977
Docket NumberNo. 27349,27349
Citation571 P.2d 1100,194 Colo. 273
PartiesPaul E. BUSHNELL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Arthur Nathaniel SAPP and the City of Colorado Springs, a ColoradoMunicipality, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Ronald A. Peterson, Colorado Springs, for plaintiff-appellant.

Kane, Donley & Wills, Lee R. Wills, Hayden W. Kane, Colorado Springs, for defendants-appellees.

LEE, Justice.

This case presents a number of constitutional attacks upon the Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act. Section 10-4-701 et seq., C.R.S.1973 (1976 Supp.). This "no-fault" insurance statute has completely restructured the compensation system for victims of automobile accidents occurring on or after April 1, 1974. We find no constitutional infirmities in the structure or application of the Act and affirm the trial court's dismissal of appellant's complaint.

Appellant brought a negligence action against a police officer and the City of Colorado Springs in El Paso County District Court on April 16, 1976. He claims that on August 2, 1975, a Colorado Springs police patrol wagon 1 collided with a bicycle he was riding and that he incurred $236 in medical expenses for his resulting injuries. He also claims that he has sustained great physical and mental pain and suffering, for which he seeks $25,000.

The court dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court found as follows:

"1. Assuming that the police patrol car driven by Defendant Sapp and owned by Defendant City is held not to be a "Patrol wagon", and therefore not exempt under the applicable regulations, then Plaintiff must pursue his direct benefits under the act, since he has not met the $500.00 threshold which would entitle him to maintain a separate tort action.

"2. Assuming, however, that the police patrol car is held to be a "Patrol wagon" within the meaning of the regulations, and is therefore exempt from the requirements of the statute, Plaintiff would have the right to maintain a direct tort action but for the fact that the City does provide benefits equivalent to those required by the statute. Because of that circumstance, Plaintiff must also pursue his direct benefits under the statute. The Court reaches this conclusion from its reading of 10-4-715(1)(a), C.R.S.1973. The court further concludes that its construction of the statute does not bring about an unconstitutional result."

I.

The Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act is a "no-fault" statute applying to automobile accidents occurring on or after April 1, 1974. Section 10-4-701 et seq., C.R.S.1973 (1976 Supp.). It establishes a system of direct benefit insurance to compensate victims without regard to fault. No-fault insurance coverage is required of the owner of every "motor vehicle" as defined by the Act. Section 10-4-705(1). "Motor vehicle" is defined as

" * * * any vehicle of a type required to be registered and licensed under the laws of this state and which is designed to be propelled by an engine or motor; except that this term does not include motorcycles, motorscooters, minibikes, snowmobiles, bicycles with motor or engine attached, or any vehicle designed primarily for use off the road or on rails." Section 10-4-703(7), C.R.S., 1973.

Certain other vehicles are not required to be registered and are thus not covered by the Act: vehicles owned by the United States, vehicles owned by the state of Colorado or any agency or institution thereof, all fire vehicles, and all police ambulances and patrol wagons. Section 42-3-103(3), C.R.S.1973.

The Act provides that a person who is entitled to receive direct benefits under the Act cannot maintain a tort action for damages, unless he meets one of the threshold requirements. Section 10-4-714(1), C.R.S.1973. Those requirements are:

"(1)

"(a) Death;

(b) Dismemberment;

(c) Permanent Disability;

(d) Permanent Disfigurement;

(e) Reasonable need for services of the type described in section 10-4-706(1) (b) and (1)(c) (primarily medical and rehabilitative expenses) having a reasonable value in excess of five hundred dollars * * * (f) Loss of earnings and loss of earning capacity extending beyond the fifty-two week period provided in section 10-4-706(1)(d) and not compensated by an applicable complying policy" Section 10-4-714(1), C.R.S.1973.

If a threshold requirement is reached, a tort action can be brought and the traditional tort rules for damages are applicable.

II.

Assuming, as appellant alleged in his complaint, that he collided with a police "patrol wagon," it did not need to be registered or to be covered by a complying no-fault policy. Section 42-3-103(3), C.R.S.1973. Normally, then, the appellant would not be limited by the Act and could maintain a tort action no matter how small his damages. The City of Colorado Springs, however, had provided insurance coverage equivalent to that under the Act. In such case, section 10-4-715(1)(a) of the no-fault Act is pertinent:

"(1) Nothing in this part 7 shall be construed to limit the right to maintain an action in tort by either a provider of direct benefits under section 10-4-706(1)(b) to (1)(e) or by a person who has been injured or damaged as a result of an automobile accident against an alleged tort-feasor where such alleged tort-feasor was either:

"(a) Using or operating a motor vehicle not required to be covered under the provisions of this part 7, unless coverage equivalent to that required under section 10-4-706 was, at the time of occurrence of the alleged tortious conduct, actually provided for the benefit of persons for whom benefits are provided under section 10-4-707 ; or * * *." (Emphasis added.)

It is clear that subsection (a) limits the right to maintain a tort lawsuit when the alleged tort-feasor has coverage equivalent to that under the Act. This language implicitly requires the injured person to pursue those direct benefits unless he is able to meet one of the Act's threshold requirements for a tort action. Since appellant's medical expenses were less than $500, he has conceded that he cannot meet any of the threshold requirements. Thus, the trial court properly ruled that his exclusive remedy is for direct benefits under the coverage provided by the City of Colorado Springs.

Inasmuch as appellant's exclusive remedy is under the no-fault Act, we now consider his constitutional attacks upon the Act itself. 2

III.

Appellant contends that an interpretation permitting Colorado Springs to have the option of bringing its police patrol cars within no-fault coverage is constitutionally defective in four respects. These defects are characterized as: (A) an unlawful delegation of legislative authority; (B) special legislation; (C) a due process violation; and (D) a denial of equal protection rights. We start from the premise that a statute is presumed to be constitutional unless it is clearly shown otherwise. Zaba v. Motor Vehicle Division, Department of Revenue, 183 Colo. 335, 516 P.2d 634.

A. Unlawful Delegation

In our view, the legislature has not made an unconstitutional delegation of its legislative power. It has enacted a comprehensive and self-contained statute which gives a few non-covered parties the option to be covered by it. The City of Colorado Springs, the non-covered party here, has no power to vary the benefits, change the threshold requirements, or modify the Act in any respect whatsoever. The City's sole choice is whether to bring its city police patrol wagons under no-fault coverage. This is not a case where parties are delegated authority to set prices or terms of legislation. Cf. Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp. v. Francis, 134 Colo. 160, 301 P.2d 139.

It is permissible for the legislature to trigger the operative effect of a law on the happening of a certain future event. Board of County Commissioners of Pueblo County v. Smith, 22 Colo. 534, 45 P. 357. See generally 16 Am.Jur.2d Constitutional Law § 258; 16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 141. The future event here is the election by a non-covered party to be covered by the Act. Especially in view of the comprehensive detailed nature of the statute, this is a proper event upon which to predicate its operation.

B. Special Legislation

Appellant contends that the no-fault Act is special legislation and violates Article V, Section 25 of the Colorado Constitution. We do not agree. A statute is not special legislation when it is general and uniform in its operation upon all those in like situation. O'Quinn v. Walt Disney Productions, Inc., 177 Colo. 190, 493 P.2d 344; People ex rel. Johnson v. Earl, 42 Colo. 238, 94 P. 294. The no-fault Act is geared to the existing automobile registration law which exempts state, federal, fire, and police vehicles from registration. Section 42-3-103(3), C.R.S.1973. Certain groups are not singled out for special treatment rather, the reasonable and legitimate distinctions already made in the state automobile registration laws are recognized and accommodated.

C. Due Process

Appellant erroneously argues that the inclusion and exclusion of vehicles from the Act's coverage denies him his substantive due process rights. Colo.Const. Art. II, Sec. 25; U.S.Const. amend. XIV.

The Act was enacted pursuant to the police power of the state. It is fundamental that the exercise of the police power must not be arbitrary or unreasonable, and it must bear a reasonable relation to a permissible legislative objective. U. S. Disposal Systems v. City of Northglenn, Colo., 567 P.2d 365.

Appellant does not dispute that the Act is directed toward proper legislative objectives: the regulation of the use of public highways and the promotion of the health, safety and public welfare of the citizens. Zaba v. Motor Vehicle Division, Department of Revenue, 183 Colo. 335, 516 P.2d 634. As part of the regulatory scheme, the legislature can prescribe a method for prompt and sufficient compensation for victims of accidents caused on those highways....

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