DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court has cleared the way for an accident victim to sue a personal-injury lawyer who advertised his firm as "the strong arm," ruling that attorneys are covered by laws barring false or deceptive ad claims.
In a unanimous Jan. 9 ruling in Crowe v. Tull, the court overturned a trial judge and ruled that the Colorado Consumer Protection Act applies to lawyers. The law allows successful plaintiffs to win triple damages and attorney fees.
Colorado Springs construction worker Richard E. Crowe filed the suit against Denver-based Frank Azar & Associates, saying the firm pressured him into settling his traffic-accident claim for $4,000, even though Crowe estimated his medical bills and lost wages totaled $24,000.
The law firm advertises heavily on television, touting its ability to win settlements from insurance companies and other defendants.
Azar described Crowe's lawsuit as "frivolous" and said the Colorado Supreme Court ruling did not address the merits of the case.
"You can sue anybody for anything," he said.
The ruling, written by Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, sent the case back to the trial judge, who must consider whether Azar's firm engaged in deceptive practices.
Mullarkey wrote that the Consumer Protection Act, first enacted in 1969, does not specifically mention lawyers but that the Legislature has had plenty of opportunity to exclude them.
Some attorneys praised the ruling, saying it ensures that lawyers and law firms are treated like other businesses.
"This really, really notches up the liability," said Denver attorney Eric Fisher.
Beth Krulewitch, who submitted a legal brief in the case on behalf of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, said the group argued for Crowe's right to sue but did not try to determine whether his claims were true.
"Our position was if there is a case where somebody allegedly advertised in a misleading or deceptive way, attorneys shouldn't be carved out as an exception to that body of law," she said.