The doctors say you suffered a concussion, which explains why you can't remember anything about the accident. But now your mind is swimming in painkillers while Community Hospital nurses buzz around you and you still can't get a straight answer: what next? Suffering a major injury is a terrifying and confusing experience, which is why FindLaw has created this guide on the who, what, when, where, why and how of your Boulder personal injury case.
Who to Sue?
You can sue anyone who carelessly caused your injuries. This can be the individual who negligently caused a crash, the doctor who performed an unnecessary operation, or the business that forgot to mop up the puddle you slipped on.
Also, it is not uncommon for a plaintiff to have contributed somewhat to their own injuries. Under Colorado's comparative negligence law, fault is assigned to each negligent party and damages are distributed according to fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Colorado uses a modified comparative negligence standard, which means that you cannot recover if you are more than 50% at-fault for your injuries.
What Do I Sue For?
The most common cause of action after an injury is a negligence lawsuit. Negligence lawsuits govern accidental conduct, so you don't have to prove the other party intended to hurt you. You must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injuries.
Another common lawsuit is medical malpractice. This governs situations where medical professionals injured you through improper medical treatment.
The law of intentional torts governs, as its name suggests, injuries that were inflicted intentionally, such as assault or battery.
In some types of cases, you may instead have to sue the company that made the product that caused your injury in a products liability lawsuit. To succeed, you must point out a defect in the design or manufacturing process that caused your injury. These cases are usually highly technical, so be prepared to recruit an expert witness in the applicable field to analyze your case and provide testimony.
In the tragic event of a loved one's accidental death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought against negligent or otherwise responsible parties. Wrongful death lawsuits have the same standards as the theories above, but seek to recover the costs relatives must bear as a result of their loved one's death, such as lost wages, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
When Do I File a Lawsuit?
Imagine you get a letter from the court calling on you to defend yourself from a lawsuit based on a fender bender that happened ten years ago. A little unfair, right? Evidence is gone, you've lost track of witnesses and you barely remember the event yourself. How can the judge expect you to mount a meaningful defense? Fortunately, they don't.
The Colorado statute of limitations forbids anyone from initiating a lawsuit more than two years after the accident occurred, or when the injuries were reasonably discoverable. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years, you will forever be barred from recovery regardless of the strength of you case.
Where Do I Go?
The best place to file your lawsuit is at the Boulder County Justice Center, located at 1777 Sixth St. The Justice Center housed both the District Court, which handles lawsuits in any amount, and County Court, which can only handle lawsuits worth less than $15,000. Additionally, you should consider filing in small claims court if your case is worth $7,500 or less. Read all about your small claims case in this thorough Small Claims Handbook (PDF) written by the Colorado judiciary specifically for non-lawyers.
Why Should I Go Through All This?
When anyone gets injured, someone has to pay the bills. This might be a spouse, parent, family member, or even taxpayers. However, if someone else's carelessness caused your injuries, why should you have to foot the bill?
The purpose of all personal injury lawsuits is to recover a sum of money, referred to as "damages." Damages are traditionally split into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are costs you must bear on account of the injury. These are easily computed into monetary amounts, such as medical expenses, future income, loss of property, costs of repair or replacement, and loss of employment opportunities.
Non-economic damages are a bit more slippery. In personal injury lawsuits, these are usually referred to as "pain and suffering" damages, as their purpose is to compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury. These damages are hard to define, bit include loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring and disfigurement.
Colorado places a damage cap on all potential non-economic damage awards (including medical malpractice) which increases with inflation; as of 2013 it stands at around $350,000. Furthermore, the total award for any medical malpractice case, including both economic and non-economic damages, cannot exceed $1 million.
How to Proceed?
The first step to initiating a lawsuit is to draft a complaint, which is a brief description of the incident and a request for compensation.
Is navigating the murky waters of the Colorado legal system too daunting a prospect? You may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Many of these lawyers will give you a free initial consultation, and usually work on a contingency basis; they get paid a percent of your recovery, and don't get paid until you win or settle your case.
Alternatively, if you were injured at work you could file a worker's compensation claim instead of a lawsuit. The Colorado 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 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 forms you may use.
Contact a qualified attorney.