Colorado Medical Malpractice Laws & Statute of Limitations

Get an overview of the relevant laws, time limits, and procedural rules to bring a lawsuit against a doctor or other medical professional in Colorado.

If you’re planning to sue a health care provider in Colorado for medical malpractice, you will most likely need to enlist the help of a good medical malpractice attorney. These cases are known for being very complicated and difficult for injured patients to navigate successfully. Still, it’s important to understand the process—so that you know what to expect and don’t wait too long before taking action. Below, we discuss the most important laws in Colorado that can impact the outcome your medical malpractice case, including:

  • the deadlines for filing a lawsuit
  • the “certificate of review” requirement
  • caps on awards, and
  • what happens in cases of shared fault.

Colorado’s Deadlines for Filing Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit in court. Like most states, Colorado has a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases. But it’s not as simple as one deadline. The statute of limitations includes a standard and “outside” deadline, and the “clock” may start running at different times, depending on the circumstances.

The Two-Year Deadline and the Discovery Rule

In Colorado, any lawsuit based on alleged medical negligence by a health care professional or institution must be filed within two years after the action “accrues.” Under what’s often called the “discovery rule,” Colorado law says that the cause of action accrues when “both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-80-102.5(1), 13-80-108(1) (2021).)

The Three-Year Deadline and Exceptions

Beyond the standard two-year deadline, Colorado law says that “in no event” may a medical malpractice lawsuit be filed more than three years after the incident of alleged negligence. (This outside limit is what’s usually called a “statute of repose.”) However, the law goes on to say that the three-year outside limit does not apply in certain circumstances, including when:

  • the defendant purposefully concealed the alleged negligence
  • the alleged malpractice consisted of leaving a foreign object in the patient’s body that didn’t belong there
  • both the physical injury and its cause aren’t known and couldn’t reasonably be discovered, and
  • the injured patient is a minor or is legally incompetent (more below on the special rules in these circumstances).

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5 (2021).)

Filing Deadlines for Minors and Incapacitated Patients

In medical malpractice cases where the injured patient was younger than six years old at the time of the alleged negligence, Colorado law allows the lawsuit to be filed any time before the child’s eighth birthday. In the case of older minors (under the age of 18) or injured patients who are mentally disabled, the two-year filing deadline applies as long as they have a legal representative. If they don’t have a legal representative at the time at the negligence, the two-year period begins when a representative is appointed for them. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-80-102.5, 13-81-103 (2021).)

Other Extensions for Colorado’s Filing Deadline

Some other circumstances might extend the time for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Colorado. For instance, if the injured patient is under a continuing course of treatment with the defendant health care provider for a particular medical condition, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that the three-year period for the statute of repose doesn’t begin until the last date of that treatment. Also, the statute-of-limitations clock is paused (or “tolled” in legal jargon) while a defendant is in hiding or is out of state and can’t be served with legal papers for the lawsuit. (Comstock v. Collier, 737 P.2d 845 (Colo. 1987); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-118 (2021).)

Colorado’s Certificate of Review Requirement in Medical Malpractice Cases

In an attempt to weed out medical malpractice lawsuits that don’t have valid legal grounds or are just plain frivolous, many states require injured patients to provide some kind of supporting proof when they file a lawsuit or soon thereafter. Colorado’s version of this type of requirement is a “certificate of review.”

Within 60 days after you’ve served a medical malpractice complaint on a defendant, your attorney must sign and file a certificate of review that declares both of the following:

  • the lawyer has consulted with a qualified expert who has reviewed the facts of the case, including the medical records; and
  • based on that review, the expert has concluded that the lawsuit “does not lack substantial justification,” meaning that it’s not frivolous or without legal grounds.

The expert must have the education, training, knowledge, and experience to give an opinion about the alleged negligence in your case. When the defendant is a doctor, the expert must be a licensed physician in the same or a similar specialty as the defendant.

If there’s more than one defendant in the case, you must file a separate affidavit of review for each one of them. You must also file an affidavit for the hospital or other company that employs any of the defendant health care professionals, even if the employer isn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The judge may grant you more time to file the certificate of review, if there’s a good reason that you need the extension. Otherwise, if you haven’t filed a certificate, and the defendant believes that you wouldn’t be able to prove the alleged negligence without an expert’s testimony, the defendant may request a court order requiring the certificate. Your case will be dismissed if you don’t meet the legal requirements for a certificate of merit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-20-602, 13-61-401 (2021).)

Colorado’s Limits on Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

Many states have set caps on awards in medical malpractice cases, which limit the amount of compensation that you can receive for damages—the losses you experienced as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Most of these caps apply only to noneconomic damages like pain and suffering. Colorado has two separate limits: one applying to noneconomic damages and one applying to the total damages, including economic damages like medical bills, lost income, and diminished earning capacity. The cap for noneconomic damages (including physical impairment or disfigurement) is currently $300,000, and the overall limit for all damages is $1 million. In cases involving multiple injured patients, these limits apply to each patient.

Colorado law allows one exception to the overall damages cap: If the court finds that a plaintiff's past and future economic damages would be more than the limit, and that there's a good reason it would be unfair to apply the cap, the court may award economic damages over the $1 million limit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-64-302 (2021).)

Shared Liability Rules

In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least partially responsible for your own injuries—for instance, by not following the doctor’s instructions. In this situation, Colorado follows what’s known as the “modified comparative negligence” rule. The rule works like this:

  • If the jury finds that the defendant’s negligence caused you harm but that your own negligence also contributed to your damages, it will return a verdict that states the total amount of your damages and the percentages of fault attributable to you and the defendant.
  • If your share of the fault was less than the defendant’s (less than 50%), the judge will then reduce your award proportionately. For example, if the jury awarded $100,000 in damages but found that you were 25% to blame for your losses, you would receive $75,000.
  • If the jury found that you were 50% or more responsible for your losses, you wouldn’t be entitled to receive any compensation.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-111 (2021).)

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