Crowe v. Tull 125P.3d 196 (Col. 2006)
Plaintiff Richard Crowe filed an action under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) against his former attorneys, Marc Tull and the firm of Azar & Associates, who settled his car accident personal injury claim. He alleged that the attorneys had fraudulently claimed through a statewide program of television advertisements that the firm was highly skilled at negotiating with insurance companies and that the firm would obtain full value for its clients’ injuries.
According to the Colorado Supreme Court, the ads claimed that the lawyers “will always ‘obtain as much as we can, as fast as we can’” while another ad portrayed the firm’s president “as the ‘strong arm’ who muscles insurance adjusters into paying up.” Crowe alleged that he had retained these lawyers on the basis of their ads but that he was ultimately pressured into settling his $17,000 medical specials and $7,000 wage loss claim for only $4,000 due to the defendants’ ineptitude.
The trial court held that Crowe’s CCPA claim duplicated his legal malpractice claim and that the practice of law was not a commercial activity governed by the CCPA. On appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court reinstated the CCPA claim.
The Colorado Supreme Court held that the CCPA was intended to apply to all deceptive marketing practices and fraudulent advertising without regard to the defendant’s occupation. It declined to adopt the decision of the Washington Supreme Court to the effect that the comparable Washington statute could only apply to the so-called entrepreneurial aspects of legal practice. The Colorado Supreme Court held that the CCPA does not create liability for those who intend to live up to the pronouncements of their advertisements, but innocently or negligently fail to conform their conduct to their words. The court stated that on the record before it, there was sufficient evidence from which a fact finder could conclude that the defendants knowingly engaged in deceptive trade practices.Significance of Case
Even though the old blanket prohibitions against lawyer advertising have long since fallen by the wayside, this does not mean that “anything goes.” Under one theory or another, lawyers who manifestly over-promote themselves can expect to pay a significant price.