Like all other states, Colorado’s various types of cases have specific statutes of limitations. But one big difference lies in the damage caps that limit a plaintiff’s recovery.
For those who aren’t familiar, a statute of limitations is the specific period of time in which a case needs to be filed before the right to file the claim is lost. These can range from just 180 days for a negligence case against the government to three years for a motor vehicle accident.
A damage cap is the ceiling for the claim – the ultimate recovery a plaintiff can receive, regardless of what happened in the case or how bad the plaintiff’s injuries are.
What is the point of a damage cap? It was originally intended to keep verdicts from going out of control and burdening the economy. If a medical malpractice jury awards millions of dollars to a plaintiff, however deserving, that doctor’s insurer is going to raise costs to the hospitals in its network to offset its own burden, which means it costs more for the doctor to practice medicine, which means it costs more for patients to see the doctor, and so on and so forth. To keep this from happening, states enacted damage caps to keep juries from running away with awards.
We will touch upon the most common types of personal injury cases in the Centennial State here, as well as their accompanying damage caps.
Based on the date an accident took place, Colorado damage caps are the following, with numbers reflecting adjustments for inflation:
$250,000 or $500,000 (accidents occurring before January 1, 1998)
$366,250 or $732,500 (Accidents occurring from January 1, 1998 to January 1, 2008)
$468,010 or $936,030 (Accidents occurring after January 1, 2008)
- Motor vehicle accidents can be life-changing and devastating in their impact. In Colorado, a car accident victim has three years to file a claim. His recovery will be limited by damage caps for pain and suffering, according to C.R.S. 13-21-102.5. Damages have a ceiling of $250,000 (plus inflation) unless there is clear and convincing evidence that an increase is warranted, in which case they will be topped at $500,000 (plus inflation).
- Medical malpractice cases have a time limit of two years for filing, with the discovery rule. This means that if the injury isn’t found until after the statute of limitations has run, the claimant can still file when he or she initially discovers the injury. (An example would be if a patient didn’t realize that a sponge was left inside his chest cavity until three years after the operation and had no reasonable way of knowing until it started causing trouble.) Non-economic damages are capped at $300,000, and total damages are capped at $1 million, according to C.R.S. 13-64-302, unless it can be shown that this would be an unreasonable award.
- Dram shop cases have a one-year statute of limitations under C.R.S. 12-47-801. These are cases in which businesses licensed to sell alcohol may be held liable for giving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual or a person under 21 years of age. Damages for dram shop cases are capped at $150,000 for the total recovery against the tavern or bar, per person injured. This isn’t to say that the intoxicated person isn’t responsible for his or her conduct; this is in addition to whatever the drunken person does. In theory, it’s actually a separate case.
Colorado also has what’s known as a “social host” provision. This is when somebody without the license to sell alcohol (at a party at someone’s house, for instance) serves a drink to someone who is visibly intoxicated or who is under the age of 21. While the social host wouldn’t necessarily be liable for serving alcohol in the former case, he would be liable if he knowingly served alcohol to a minor who then goes on to injure himself or someone else.
- Wrongful death cases have a time limit of two years under C.R.S. 13-21-203. If a person dies because of another’s negligence, Colorado law allows survivors to pursue a wrongful death claim against the parties at fault. These actions can include both economic and non-economic damages, and they are generally capped at $250,000, plus inflation. If there is clear and convincing evidence that the decedent experienced grievous pain and suffering, this can increase to $500,000 (plus inflation). Burial costs have no cap, along with other economic damages such as the loss of earnings and benefits that survivors would have received over the course of the decedent’s working life.
The damage cap is not applied if the court finds that the death was the result of a felonious killing such as murder or manslaughter. Recovery under this option does not require that the defendant already be convicted under criminal statutes.
In Colorado, family members also have the option of pursuing what are called “solatium” claims. These offer heirs the option of not having to prove their grief and suffering before the court. They instead simply prove fault in the death of their relative and accept the capped sum of $50,000, plus inflation.
- Punitive and exemplary damages are governed by C.R.S. 13-21-102. These types of damages are available in every case to a certain extent; they are intended to punish the defendant and make an example of him. This is intended to stop outrageous behavior that is accompanied by “malice… willful and wanton conduct.” When the defendant behaves with reckless disregard toward others, he can be punished with these sorts of damages, though they cannot exceed the actual award the plaintiff receives. If the defendant keeps repeating the actions that led to this punishment, the judge can decide to triple that amount. However, these are rarely awarded.
Damage caps and statutes of limitation can be a complicated area. This is only a snapshot of some of the laws that set limitations on personal injury claims in Colorado, and certainly the details of your case will require consideration. Learn more about hiring the right attorney. Talk to The Babcock Law Firm for a free consultation today.