Auto Accidents and Personal Injury in Colorado

Automobile accidents are generally the source of most personal injury lawsuits. They provide a good example of how this area of law works.

Proving Negligence

A person may be liable to you if he or she was negligent in causing an accident that injures you. People who act negligently generally don't intend to cause a result like an injury to another person. Rather, their liability stems from careless or thoughtless conduct or a failure to act when a reasonable person would have acted. A driver has a duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring anyone he or she meets on the road. If a driver fails to use reasonable care and as a result of that failure injures you, then the driver is liable to you for those injuries.

If the case goes to trial, a judge or jury will listen to the evidence and then decide what a "reasonable" person would have done in similar circumstances. In an auto accident, a judge or jury is likely to find a driver negligent if his or her conduct departed from this standard.

Comparative Negligence

You may be able to recover some damages even if you were partly at fault. In the past, the rule was that if the other driver could prove that you contributed in any way to the accident, you could be totally barred from recovering anything. But now most states, including Colorado, have rejected such harsh results and instead look at the comparative fault of the drivers. If a jury finds that you were negligent and that your negligence contributed 25 percent to cause the injury and that the other driver was 75 percent at fault, that other driver would only be responsible for 75 percent of your damages. For example, if your damages totaled $100,000, then the other driver would be liable for $75,000 of your damages. Importantly, however, if you are found to be 50 percent or more negligent, then you cannot recover any amount.

Colorado's No-Fault Law

In Colorado, this right to recover your losses is limited in part by the no-fault law. That law prevents those with only minor injuries or with minor medical expenses from suing or recovering from the at-fault driver.

The no-fault law requires that each automobile operated on the public streets and highways of Colorado be covered by insurance (or be self-insured). This required insurance will, at a minimum, without regard to fault, generally pay for that vehicle's driver's or passenger's medical or rehabilitation expenses, up to $25,000.00 or more, if such medical or rehabilitation expenses are incurred within a certain time period from the accident, generally five years. No-fault insurance will also pay for such driver's or passenger's loss of income caused by the accident, up to $400 per week for the first 52 weeks after the accident. However, these expenses and losses paid by insurance generally cannot be recovered in a claim against the other driver, even if that other driver negligently caused such expenses or losses.

What Damages Can Be Recovered?

What can be recovered in a Colorado auto accident personal injury claim? If you win, a judge or jury awards you money, known as damages, for your injuries. That amount can include compensation for physical pain and suffering and other non-economic losses. It can also include any medical expenses not paid for by your auto insurance and any loss of income you incur over and above $400 per week for the first 52 weeks, as well as any loss of income in the future beyond the first 52 weeks after the accident. In addition, you may receive damages for any physical disfigurement or disability that resulted from your injury.

The money is intended to restore your loss; it is generally not considered as income and is not taxable as income by the federal government or the states.

Settlements Common

Many personal injury lawsuits are settled by negotiation before they are decided by a judge or jury. Settlements are usually negotiated between the lawyers, with the client determining whether or not a settlement will be accepted. A settlement typically pays you money in return for dismissing the suit. You should not assume, however, that any suit you bring will be settled.

Statute of Limitations

Every state has certain time limits, called statutes of limitations, that govern the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an auto accident. In Colorado, the time limit for most auto negligence cases is three years (most other personal injury claims in Colorado are governed by a two year statute of limitations). If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case may be thrown out of court.

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