You could be entitled to damages if another party causes you harm. For example, suppose a driver causes a car accident, or you slip and fall because of a property owner’s negligence. You may receive compensation for your economic and non-economic damages in those circumstances. These damages are compensatory damages because they “compensate” the victim for losses and harm.

Punitive damages are another category of damages in personal injury cases. However, punitive damages are only awarded in a small number of personal injury lawsuits. The injured party must prove specific elements for a jury to award punitive damages.

Understanding Punitive Damages in a Colorado Personal Injury Case

Juries award punitive damages or exemplary damages as a form of punishment for a defendant’s conduct. Even though the punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim for losses, the injured party still receives the punitive damages as part of their damages award.

However, jurors must find specific circumstances exist to award punitive damages. Colorado Revised Statute §13-21-102 requires that the plaintiff prove that the defendant’s behavior rose to the level of:

  • Malice,
  • Willful and wanton conduct, or
  • Fraud

The law defines willful and wanton conduct as behavior that the defendant intentionally commits, even though the defendant realizes the behavior is dangerous. The defendant continues with the behavior in a reckless and headless disregard for the consequences of their actions, especially regarding the safety of others.

The complaint filed by the plaintiff usually does not include a demand for punitive damages. Instead, the plaintiff amends the complaint to seek punitive damages after the parties complete discovery. Discovery involves exchanging information and evidence with the other party, but it could also include gathering additional evidence through depositions and subpoenas.

Judges May Change the Amount Awarded for Punitive Damages for a Colorado Personal Injury Claim

By default, the maximum amount the jurors can award for punitive damages is equal to the plaintiff’s economic and non-economic damages. For instance, if the jury awards the plaintiff $1 million for their financial losses, pain, and suffering, the maximum amount of punitive damages in the case would be $1 million. 

However, an award for punitive damages must be reasonable. Judges can decrease the amount of punitive damages and even void the damages award in certain circumstances.

There are also situations when a judge could increase the amount of punitive damages in a personal injury. A judge can increase the award up to three times the amount of compensatory damages, depending on the case.

Punitive damages are generally not awarded through settlement negotiations. Also, unless an agreement provides otherwise, punitive damages are not on the table during arbitration and administrative proceedings.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Punitive Damages in Colorado?

Punitive damages are a part of your personal injury case. You must prove that the other party caused your injuries before you can receive compensatory damages. Then, you would need to go further to prove that the defendant’s conduct met the bar for punitive damages before a jury would award them. The statute of limitations applies to all aspects of your personal injury case.

The Colorado statute of limitations for most personal injury lawsuits is two years from the injury date. That includes cases involving dog bites, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other negligence claims. Motor vehicle accident cases have a three-year time limit instead.

It is important to note that there could be exceptions to the statute of limitations that apply in your case. If so, your deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit could differ from the typical case. Protect your right to sue the person who caused your injury by seeking prompt legal advice from our Boulder personal injury attorneys.

How Are Compensatory Damages Different From Punitive Damages in a Boulder Personal Injury Case?

Punitive damages are used to deter and punish an at-fault party for their actions. Compensatory damages are designed to reimburse an injured party for their monetary losses and expenses (i.e., economic damages). They also compensate the victim for their pain and suffering (i.e., non-economic damages).

Examples of compensatory damages for a personal injury case include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages and earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish
  • Physical discomfort
  • Loss of enjoyment of life and quality of life
  • Disfigurement, scarring, disability, and impairment

The value of your damages depends on the facts of your case. An experienced Boulder personal injury lawyer can explain in greater detail how much your case could be worth during a free consultation.

Do You Have Questions About a Personal Injury Claim in Boulder, CO?

You can learn more about your legal options and the damages you can receive by talking to an attorney. Call us at (303) 665-2929 or contact us online for a free consultation with a Boulder personal injury lawyer at Tenge Law Firm, LLC.