Thinking of bringing a Colorado personal injury (PI) claim? Maybe you were injured by a careless driver, or slipped and fell on someone's poorly maintained property. Before you make an insurance claim or file a lawsuit in court, find out about the laws and rules that will control your case.
We'll introduce you to the basics of Colorado personal injury law, including:
Your PI lawsuit is a type of civil case. It will be controlled, for the most part, by court rules called the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be complicated and difficult to understand. If you're not familiar with them, you should hire a Colorado attorney to represent you in your case.
The Colorado court that has the authority to decide most kinds of cases, including PI cases, is called the District Court. Colorado is divided into 22 judicial districts, each covering one or more counties. Typically, you'll file your lawsuit in the judicial district where your injuries happened.
Colorado has forms and instructions to help you get your District Court case started. In some PI cases, simplified procedures streamline pretrial activities and can help to move cases along more efficiently. (See Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 16.1 (2023).)
If your case involves less than $25,000, you should file your lawsuit in County Court instead of District Court. There are also forms and instructions available to help you start your County Court case.
You can start your PI lawsuit in two ways:
If you begin your lawsuit by serving the defendant with your complaint and a summons, you must file your complaint in court within 14 days. If you don't, your case can be dismissed.
You serve the defendant by delivering a copy of the complaint and summons as specified in the rules. (See Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 4(d)-(h) (2023).) If you don't serve a defendant within 63 days after filing your complaint, the court can dismiss that defendant from the case.
Colorado, like every state, has deadlines called "statutes of limitations" for filing a personal injury lawsuit in court. We'll start with the general rule in most PI cases, then talk about some special rules that apply to certain cases and situations.
Under Colorado's general rule, cases claiming an injury caused by negligence (carelessness) must be filed in court within three years. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(1) (2023).) Most PI cases are based on claims of negligence. This three-year limitation period specifically includes:
In most PI cases, the three-year clock starts to run on the date you're injured. (See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-108 (2023).) If you don't know that you're hurt, or you know you're hurt but don't know what caused your injury, you might have more time to file your lawsuit.
(Learn more about Colorado wrongful death lawsuits.)
Under Colorado law, some kinds of PI claims have longer or shorter limitation periods. Here are a few examples.
Most cases claiming injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents must be filed in court within three years from the date of injury. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-101(1)(n) (2023).) Note that a wrongful death case brought against a person who commits vehicular homicide and flees the scene has a four-year limitation period. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(2) (2023).)
If you were hurt by a negligent hospital, doctor, or other health care provider, typically you've got two years from the date you were injured to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5(1) (2023).) If you didn't know right away that you were hurt, you might have more time to file. But as a rule, the absolute deadline for filing a malpractice case—called the "statute of repose"—is three years.
(Learn more about Colorado's medical malpractice statute of limitations.)
Suits claiming an injury caused by certain intentional torts (misconduct done purposefully, not carelessly) must be filed within one year from the date of injury. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-103 (2023).) This one-year limitation covers lawsuits for:
A lawsuit against a manufacturer or seller of a dangerous product must, as a general rule, be filed within two years from the date of injury. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-106(1) (2023).)
The deadline for filing a PI lawsuit against a ski area operator (or an employee of a ski area operator) is two years from the date you were hurt. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-111 (2023).)
Colorado law recognizes several exceptions to the statutes of limitations. Here are some (but not all) of them.
If a minor (under 18 years old) is injured in Colorado, the applicable statute of limitations doesn't start to run until the minor's 18th birthday.
When the person who's responsible for your injury leaves the state or goes into hiding, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the person is out of state or in hiding. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-118 (2023).)
Most often, the applicable statute of limitations starts running on the date you were injured. But what if you don't know right away that you're hurt? The "discovery rule" might give you some extra time to file your case in court.
Under Colorado's version of the discovery rule, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start running if you didn't know you were hurt. Instead, it begins to run on the date you knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence you should have known, that you were injured.
Even with the discovery rule, though, your time to file a PI lawsuit isn't unlimited. Other limitation periods will apply. If you think your case falls under Colorado's discovery rule, you should speak with a Colorado PI lawyer right away.
If you want to sue the Colorado government—state or local—or a government employee, you first have to satisfy a special notice requirement. Specifically, within 180 days after discovering your injury, you must file a written notice that includes:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-10-109 (2023).)
If you don't file the notice as required, you can't sue the government body or employee who you claim is responsible for your injuries.
In a PI case, you try to prove that the defendant was legally at fault for your injuries. If you succeed, the defendant must pay you compensation for your injuries, called "damages." Quite often, the defendant will claim that you, too, were partially to blame. This defense—called comparative negligence—is available in Colorado.
Here's how it works.
Colorado has adopted a modified comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, if you're less than 50% to blame for your injuries, you can still collect some damages. The damages you get are reduced by your share of the fault. But if you're found to be 50% or more at fault, you collect nothing. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-111(1) (2023).)
Here's a quick example. Suppose you're shopping in a grocery store. Because your attention is focused on the store shelves, you don't see a broken floor tile in the aisle. You trip and fall on it, suffering injuries.
You sue the grocery store. The grocery store claims that you were partly at fault. After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $50,000. Because you weren't watching where you were going, the jury assigns 25% of the fault to you. Under Colorado's comparative negligence rule, because you were 25% to blame, you can still recover 75% of your damages: $50,000 x 75% = $37,500.
What's the outcome if the jury finds you to be 50% (or more) to blame? Under Colorado's modified comparative negligence rule, you would collect zero damages.
Colorado has enacted damage caps in several kinds of cases. Here are some (but not all) of them:
The law allows injured parties to recover "compensatory damages." As the name suggests, these damages compensate you for your losses if you're harmed by someone else's misconduct. Compensatory damages are grouped into two categories.
"Economic damages" are intended to make you whole for your out-of-pocket losses. This category includes things like medical bills, lost wages, and other amounts you have to pay because of your injuries. "Noneconomic damages" are designed to compensate you for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Noneconomic damages are capped at $250,000 in all Colorado PI cases except those for medical malpractice. If you can convince the judge that this cap is unfair, you can collect up to $500,000 in noneconomic damages. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102.5(3)(a) (2023).)
These amounts are adjusted for inflation. For PI cases arising between January 1, 2022 and January 1, 2024, the limits are $642,180 and—on a showing of unfairness—$1,284,370.
In a Colorado medical malpractice case, your total damages are capped at $1,000,000 per injured person. Of this total amount, no more than $300,000 can be for noneconomic damages. If you can convince the judge that the $1,000,000 cap is unfair, the judge can increase the economic damages you're allowed to collect. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-64-302(1)(b-c) (2023).)
If you sue a Colorado ski area operator, in most cases your total damages will be capped at $1,000,000. No more than $250,000 of this total can be for noneconomic damages. If you can show that the total damages cap is unfair, the judge can allow you to collect in excess of the cap for medical bills and lost wages. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-113 (2023).)
In cases where exemplary or punitive damages are allowed, they're generally capped at an amount equal to the compensatory damages you're awarded. The court can increase a punitive damage award, but the upper limit is three times your compensatory damages. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102 (2023).) Because punitive damages are rarely awarded in PI cases, this cap isn't likely to impact your case.