Whether you are in the Boulder, Denver, or Fort Collins area, injuries happen every day. In Boulder, we see quite a few bicycle-related injuries. In the Denver metro area, we see a lot of injuries caused by car accidents. Sometimes we injure ourselves and have to personally bear all of the associated costs. Other times, injuries happen through no fault of our own.
If someone else causes you an injury, you can hold them liable in civil court for the damages you suffer. Different states have different rules surrounding civil liability, so it is important for Coloradans to know Colorado’s rules on the matter.
After an injury you may wonder, How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit in Colorado? Or, How is liability established in Colorado personal injury claims? If you have questions like these, you are in the right place. Read on for more information from Tenge Law Firm’s personal injury team.
Who Can File a Personal Injury Claim?
In a general sense, anyone who suffers an injury due to someone else’s negligent or intentional actions can hold that person liable for damages. For a successful civil claim, the evidence the plaintiff puts forth must confirm their story.
Unlike in criminal court, where the evidence must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the evidence threshold in a civil case is lower. Civil claimants need only prove their story by a “preponderance of the evidence.” If a jury believes the plaintiff a mere 51% or more, their claim succeeds.
Establishing Liability for Damages
In legal terms, there are four things an injured party must show in order to establish liability for damages caused by negligence. Here, we will go through those four requirements. In doing so, we will use “plaintiff” to describe the injured party and “defendant” for the party who caused the injury.
Duty of Care
First, we must establish whether or not a duty of care existed between the defendant and the plaintiff at the time of the incident. A duty of care requires that someone acts with the attention and caution of a reasonable person when dealing with others.
For example, all drivers owe a duty of care towards others on the road to drive reasonably safely, follow traffic rules, and avoid collisions. Alternatively, business owners owe a duty of care to customers legally in their store to provide a reasonably safe environment for conducting business. If a duty of care exists, the first requirement is met.
Breach of Duty
Once we establish a duty of care between the plaintiff and defendant, we need to assess whether the defendant breached that duty of care. In law, we use the “reasonable person standard” to assess whether someone’s actions breach a duty of care. The reasonable person standard is a four-part assessment. Juries assess whether:
- A reasonable person;
- Given all the faculties and capabilities of an ordinary person;
- Would have acted in the same way;
- Given the same or similar circumstances.
If the answer to the fourth part of the question is “no”, the defendant has acted negligently and thus violated the reasonable person standard.
Once the existence and violation of a duty of care are established, the next step is establishing that real damage occurred. Real damages include both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are easier to prove than non-economic damages. In fact, without the existence of economic damages, proving non-economic damages is exceedingly difficult.
Consider someone slipping and falling on a wet spot at the supermarket. If they visit the emergency room, proving economic damage is as easy as providing the medical bill. However, if the person who falls does not seek medical attention, they do not suffer economic damage. Even if that person suffers psychological distress due to the fall, proving that distress is difficult.
Finally, a plaintiff must establish causation in a personal injury claim. To do so, the evidence must show that the real damage occurred because of the breach of the duty of care.
A plaintiff may suffer damages, but if those damages are not caused by the defendant’s breach of the duty of care, the defendant is not liable for those damages. If the evidence establishes that all four of these requirements are met, the plaintiff is entitled to damage recovery.
Negligence Per Se in Colorado
Sometimes in Colorado, a plaintiff can establish a defendant’s negligence in a separate but similar manner by showing negligence per se or presumptive negligence. If someone violates a law, regulation, or statute, and injures or otherwise damages someone else in the process, they are liable for the damage their actions cause.
In other words, by breaking a law or regulation, Colorado law presumes those actions are negligent by default.
Colorado’s Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations limit the amount of time after an incident that someone can file a legal action pertaining to that incident. Courts will throw out a legal claim filed after the statute of limitations expires. Colorado’s general statute of limitations for most personal injuries is two years from the date of the accident.
However, if an injury is not immediately apparent and takes some time to discover, the clock doesn’t start running until after the victim discovers the injury. This is not the only statute of limitations relevant to personal injuries. The statute of limitations for property and personal injury damages caused by car accidents is three years from the date of the accident.
Exceptions to Colorado’s Statute of Limitations
There are a couple of exceptions to Colorado’s statute of limitations for personal injuries.
The first exception applies to minors without legal representation and those who are mentally incompetent at the time of an accident. If someone is a minor, lacks legal representation, and suffers an injury before the age of 18, or, while mentally incapacitated—the statute of limitations only starts to run when they turn 18, gain a legal representative, or see their mental faculties restored.
The next exception applies in cases where the state cannot find the defendant to serve them with the lawsuit. If this happens, the statute of limitations starts running after the defendant is found and served with the lawsuit.
Damage Caps in Colorado
In some cases, Colorado law places a cap on the amount of damages you can recover in a personal injury claim. Generally, there is no cap on economic damages. Economic damages are tangible losses with an identifiable monetary value like medical bills and lost wages. Conversely, damages for pain and suffering cannot exceed $300,000.
Other caps include punitive damages, which, with limited exception, cannot exceed the amount of economic and non-economic damages. Similarly, medical malpractice damages cannot exceed $1,000,000. You should always check with your personal injury attorney to see if damage caps apply to your case.
Concierge Legal Service in Colorado Personal Injury
If someone else’s actions injure you in Colorado, you deserve compensation for the damages you suffer. The best way to ensure that you recover all of the damages you deserve is by hiring an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney.
At Tenge Law Firm we pride ourselves on offering unmatched, concierge-level legal services to all of our clients. In the past seven years alone we have recovered over $50 million for our clients. Let us handle your case so we can strive to get you the best possible result. You deserve it, so don’t wait. Call us today for a free consultation!