Your Denver Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Danger hides in plain sight along Interstate 25. It's no secret that even the most cautious driver could wind up on the shoulder of the road beside their smoldering wreck of a vehicle, but few expect to find themselves in that situation. Unfortunately, today was different, and now you are burdened with medical bills, an inability to work, plus that splitting headache that won't go away.

Luckily, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits exist to compensate people who are accidentally or intentionally injured by someone else. If possible, you'll want to start by following a few simple steps to preserve evidence of the injury. Filing a lawsuit may seem like a daunting proposition, and the Colorado legal system doesn't offer a ton of guidance. So to help you see through these murky waters, we have created a general outline of what to expect from a Denver personal injury case.

Filing a Lawsuit

The first step for anyone filing a lawsuit is drafting a complaint. A complaint is a brief explanation of the basis of a lawsuit. It should be plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show that the filer can win the case. Alternatively, a filer may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can draft the papers, gather evidence, and possibly negotiate a settlement. Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency basis, which means they don't get paid until they've won a case.

Lawsuits in the area are typically filed at the Denver District Court on Bannock Street, which has general jurisdiction over all civil matters arising in Denver County. Alternatively, if a claim is worth $7,500 or less, the small claims division of the Denver County Court may be used instead. Small claims court is never mandatory, but it offers a less formal setting.

All personal injury lawsuits have a hidden time limit for when you are allowed to initiate the lawsuit. In Colorado, the time limit, known in legal terms as the statute of limitations, for suing for accidental conduct is two years. Meanwhile, the time limit on suits for intentional conduct is one year. This time period begins to run (be counted) on the date both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known. If the lawsuit is not filed within two years of the injury, the filer will forever be barred from recovery regardless of the strength of the case.

Types of Lawsuits

The most well-tread route toward personal injury recovery is a negligence claim. Negligence is when someone fails to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and this failure causes an injury. Negligence lawsuits are relatively popular because they govern purely accidental conduct, such as car crashes.

In cases involving death, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.

A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example, a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment, or unreasonably delay treatment.

Comparative Negligence – How Fault Works

Sometimes a negligence case of any type is not cut-and-dry. A patient can accidentally contribute to their own injuries in a variety of ways. When this happens, Colorado has adopted a modified comparative negligence rule for distributing damages. Under Colorado's comparative negligence law, fault is divided among each party and damages are reduced in proportion to the patient's relative fault. For example, if they racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% their fault, they will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party.

However, the plaintiff cannot recover if their fault is found to be equal to or greater than the defendant's fault. This means that a 50/50 verdict is a victory for the defendant and the plaintiff will recover nothing.

Workers' Compensation

The law entitled the Colorado's Workers' Compensation Act requires employers in Colorado to purchase an insurance policy in case their employees get injured or sick on the job. This insurance provides various benefits to injured employees, including medical benefits, temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, and disfigurement benefits. The good news is you can make a claim on the insurance without filing a lawsuit at all.

Generally, the first step to success in a Workers' Comp claim is to provide written notification to your employer within four days of the injury. Your employer should automatically report this claim to the Division of Workers' Compensation within ten days of your notice. Workers' Comp law is very technical, so read more about the procedure you can expect to face, or browse a list of useful forms you may use.

Damages

Damages are traditionally divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are designed to compensate you for monetary losses, such as:

  • past and future medical expenses;
  • loss of past and future income;
  • loss of use of property;
  • costs of repair or replacement; and
  • loss of employment opportunities.

In personal injury cases, the most obvious economic damage will be medical bills, but you may want print out our damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked.

The most common types of non-economic damages in personal injury cases are "pain and suffering" and punitive damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of an injury. The maximum recovery for non-economic damages under Colorado law is generally $468,010, though pain and suffering damages are capped at $300,000 for medical malpractice cases. In wrongful death cases, "grief" damages are capped at $436,070.

If the defendant's actions were excessively dangerous or if they injured you on purpose, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior and deter others from engaging in similar acts. Colorado follows a "one-for-one" punitive damages limit: punitive damages cannot exceed the actual damages recovered.

Personal injury is a complicated field of law, so you may wish to brush up on general Injury Law Basics or, for information specific to your case, you may want to contact a local personal injury attorney.

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