What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Colorado?

Here's how Colorado's personal injury statutes of limitations work, when the filing deadline can be extended, and what happens if you don't file your lawsuit in time.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Colorado has several laws called "statutes of limitations." Their purpose is to limit your time to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. Simply put, these laws are claim killers. That's their only job, and they do that job with cold-blooded efficiency. Miss the applicable deadline for your case, and your claim is legally dead. No matter how serious or disabling your injuries, you won't be allowed to file a lawsuit to collect compensation.

We begin with Colorado's two-year general rule for PI cases. Some kinds of personal injury cases have their own statute of limitations. We'll look at several of them, and we'll explain some of the circumstances when Colorado law extends the time limit, giving you longer to file. We close with a quick discussion of what happens when you miss the filing deadline. Spoiler alert: Nothing good.

Colorado's Personal Injury General Rule: Two Years to File Suit

Unless you find a statute of limitations that's a closer fit for your case, Colorado's general filing deadline rule applies. Found at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(1) (2024), it gives you two years to file your lawsuit in court. This rule applies to cases involving:

  • slip and fall and similar injuries on dangerous properties
  • most lawsuits for wrongful death when personal injuries cause death, and
  • cases against the government—state or local—or a government employee.

When does the deadline clock start running? Most often, on the date you're injured. In a wrongful death case, the deadline typically runs from the date of death.

Deadlines in Other Personal Injury Cases

Colorado's general rule isn't a "one-size-fits-all" deadline. Different statutes of limitations apply to particular kinds of PI cases. Here are some of the most common.

Auto Accidents

As a rule, you have three years to file suit when you're hurt in a motor vehicle accident—whether you were a driver, passenger, bicyclist, or pedestrian. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-101(1)(n) (2024).) Colorado's discovery rule, discussed above, applies to auto accidents. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-108(12) (2024).)

In a wrongful death lawsuit against a driver who commits vehicular homicide and leaves the accident scene, the limitation period is four years from the date of death. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(2) (2024).)

Medical Malpractice

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5(1) (2024) gives you two years to file a medical malpractice suit when you've been injured by a careless doctor, hospital, or health care provider. Colorado's discovery rule (see above) applies here, too.

But there's a catch. Colorado has enacted a second deadline, called a "statute of repose," that limits the time you have to discover your medical malpractice injury. Under the statute of repose, the latest you can sue is three years from the date of the malpractice. In other words, your medical malpractice case is time barred if you don't file your case within this three-year statute of repose deadline, even if you never discovered your injury.

Sound complicated? Hang on, because it gets worse. The three-year statute of repose doesn't apply when:

  • the defendant knowingly conceals the medical malpractice from you
  • you were injured by a foreign object, like a surgical instrument, that was mistakenly left inside your body
  • both the malpractice and your injury weren't known to you, and you couldn't have discovered them even if you'd been reasonably diligent, or
  • the injured person was a child younger than six years old or a person suffering from another legal disability.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5(3) (2024).)

Long story short: If you think you have a medical malpractice claim, don't try to sort the statute of limitations out by yourself. Speak to an experienced Colorado lawyer about the filing deadline in your case.

Intentional Injuries

Most PI cases involve injuries resulting from someone's careless behavior. But what if another person does something intentionally that causes you harm? Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-103(1)(a) (2024) gives you just one year to file suit for these intentional torts:

Product Liability

When you're injured by a dangerous or defective product, the law calls your case a "product liability" lawsuit. You have two years from the date you're injured to file a lawsuit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-106(1) (2024).)

Ski Area Operators

Skiing is, of course, big business in Colorado. So ski area operators get their own statute of limitations: Two years from the date you're hurt is the deadline to sue a Colorado ski area operator. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-111 (2024).)

Can Colorado's Personal Injury Filing Deadline Be Extended?

In addition to the discovery rule, there are some situations when Colorado extends the deadline to file your PI case. Here are a couple of examples.

Legally Disabled Persons

Those who are legally disabled (unable to file a lawsuit without assistance) might get extra time to sue under Colorado law. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-81-103(1) (2024).) For purposes of this law, "legally disabled" means a person who's:

  • a minor (younger than 18 years old)
  • mentally "incompetent," or
  • suffering from some other disability but has no legal representative.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-81-101(3) (2024).)

Defendant Leaves Colorado

To avoid being served with your lawsuit, the defendant might flee Colorado or go into hiding in the state. Colorado lawmakers anticipated those moves and responded with Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-118 (2024). The statute of limitations doesn't run when the defendant leaves Colorado or goes into hiding and you're unable to serve them.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

As mentioned above, the statute of limitations is a claim killer. If you miss the deadline, your first call should be to a Colorado personal injury lawyer. Find out if the facts of your case mean it might be possible to extend the filing deadline. If no extension is possible, then your claim is legally dead. File a lawsuit in court and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it. The court will have no choice but to grant that request—and the judge might even sanction you for filing a frivolous case.

You won't fare any better if you try to negotiate a settlement without filing in court. Absent the threat or possibility of a court case, the defendant and their insurance company have no reason to take you or your claim seriously. You have no way to force them to pay you for your losses, no matter how serious or disabling your injuries might be.

Get Help With Your Colorado Statute of Limitations Questions

If you have questions about your case filing deadline, this much should be clear: The statute of limitations is no place for amateurs. The consequences of a mistake can be devastating. So great is the risk of error that even lawyers who don't regularly handle lawsuits won't take on statute of limitations problems.

Contact an experienced Colorado lawyer for help with your case. When you're ready to do that, here's how you can find an attorney in your area.

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