Denver Personal Injury Attorney
Serving Accident Victims and Families in Colorado
Colorado personal injury attorney R. Mack Babcock explains the distinctions between criminal and tort law
Denver personal injury attorney Mack Babcock fights to ensure that injured individuals obtain the benefits they need to heal physically, emotionally, and financially.
Generally speaking, a tort is when one person or entity inflicts an injury upon another in which the injured party can sue for damages.
Colorado used to be a “no-fault” state for auto accidents, meaning your insurance company was legally obligated to pay for your medical bills, lost wages and more according to your auto insurance policy regardless of who was at fault in the accident. However, there were a number of downsides to this system including rampant fraud, insurance companies having control over which doctor’s victims could see, and difficulty suing for pain and suffering, among other reasons.
Because of these and other shortcomings, Colorado switched to a tort-based system for auto accidents in 2003 and hasn’t looked back. Although the tort law system isn’t perfect, it does make more sense and offer more options to injured Coloradans.
If you or someone you know has been injured, an experienced tort lawyer can help you receive the compensation you deserve. Colorado tort attorneys at The Babcock Law Firm understand the ins and outs of tort law and have represented individuals after car accidents, slip and falls and even wrongful death.
We’ll always be there for you through the whole process. Every step of the way.
What is a Tort Case?
A tort is defined as “a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability.” A tort occurs when a person wrongs someone else in a way that exposes the offender to legal liability. This harm doesn’t always occur because someone intentionally sets out to harm another person on purpose. Rather, a person can commit a tort by acting negligently or failing to act appropriately. In addition, in some types of tort cases, an actor is strictly liable for the damages they cause even when they are as careful as possible.
Tort law determines whether a person should be held legally accountable for an injury against another, as well as what type of compensation the injured party is entitled to.
In tort lawsuits, the injured party—referred to as the “plaintiff” in civil cases (comparable to the prosecutor in a criminal case)—seeks compensation, typically through the representation of a personal injury attorney, from the “defendant” for damages incurred (i.e. harm to property, health, or well-being).
The 4 elements to every successful tort case are: duty, breach of duty, causation and injury. For a tort claim to be well-founded, there must have been a breach of duty made by the defendant against the plaintiff, which resulted in an injury.
Examples and Types of Torts
Tort lawsuits are the biggest category of civil litigation and can encompass a wide range of personal injury cases. However, there are 3 main types: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability.
In Colorado, each specific tort has its own list of elements under the law that create subtle but important distinctions when proving that compensation is owed.
An intentional tort is when an individual or entity purposely engages in conduct that causes injury or damage to another. For example, striking someone in a fight would be considered an intentional act that would fall under the tort of battery; whereas accidentally hitting another person would not qualify as “intentional” because there was no intent to strike the individual (however, this act may be considered negligent if the person hit was injured).
Although it may seem like an intentional tort can be categorized as a criminal case, there are important differences. A crime can be defined as a wrongful act that injures or interferes with the interests of society. In comparison, intentional torts are wrongful acts that injure or interfere with an individual’s well-being or property.
While criminal charges are brought by the government and can result in a fine or jail sentence, tort charges are filed by a plaintiff seeking monetary compensation for damages that the defendant must pay if they lose.
Sometimes a wrongful act may be both a criminal and tort case. A victim can typically recover more financial damages from a civil case than a criminal case.
Examples of intentional torts
- False imprisonment
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Trespass (to land and property)
There is a specific code of conduct that every person is expected to follow, and a legal duty of the public to act a certain way in order to reduce the risk of harm to others.
Failure to adhere to these standards is known as negligence.
Negligence is by far the most common type of tort.
Unlike intentional torts, negligence cases do not involve deliberate actions. Negligence occurs when a person fails to act carefully enough and another person gets hurt as a result. For this type of case, a person must owe a duty to another person. Then, they must fail in their duty to act reasonably. Finally, that failure must result in harm and damages.
For example, a driver on the road has a duty to drive at a reasonable speed. If a driver travels 20 miles over the speed limit, they have acted negligently. If they hit someone and hurt them, they have committed a negligence tort and likely owe the victim for their losses.
Another common example of negligence torts are cases of slip and fall, which occur when a property owner fails to act as a reasonable person would, thus resulting in harm to the visitor or customer. For example, a janitor has a duty to put up a wet floor sign after mopping. If he or she fails to put up the sign and someone falls and injures themselves, a negligence tort case may be filed.
Examples of negligence torts
- Slip and fall accidents
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Medical malpractice
Lastly, there are torts involving strict liability. Strict, or “absolute,” liability applies to cases where responsibility for an injury can be imposed on the wrongdoer without proof of negligence or direct fault. If a case is a strict liability tort, the victim has a right to recover even if the responsible party took every precaution and didn’t hurt them intentionally. The only thing the victim must prove is that they were hurt because of the other person’s actions. What matters is that an action occurred and resulted in the eventual injury of another person.
In lawsuits such as these, the injured consumer only has to establish that their injuries were directly caused by the product in question in order to have the law on their side. The fact that the company did not “intend” for the consumer to be injured is not a factor.
Defective product and dog bite cases are prime examples of when liability is maintained despite intent.
Examples of strict liability torts
- Defective products (Product Liability)
- Animal attacks (dog bite lawsuits)
- Abnormally dangerous activities
Criticisms of Colorado’s Tort Laws
Statute of limitations
One drawback to Colorado tort law is that there is a limit on the amount of time a victim has to bring a case. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” For most Colorado personal injury (tort) cases, the deadline is as short as 2 years (and could be as short as 180 days if a governmental entity is involved). This makes it very important to bring a lawsuit almost immediately after you suffer an injury or discover damages. There are a few exceptions to the statute of limitations, but these are rare.
Another criticism of tort law is Colorado’s limit on non-economic damages. These types of damages compensate a victim for pain and suffering, loss of a loved one’s companionship and other types of losses that aren’t easy to measure by a dollar amount. Non-economic damages attempt to place a monetary value on mental and emotional suffering.
Unfortunately, Colorado only allows a victim to recover a limited amount of these types of damages no matter how traumatic their injuries.
In addition, the burden of proof to win a significant non-economic damages award is high. The court must find that there is “clear and convincing evidence” to raise the award to the top amount possible. Even then, the court is bound by laws that limit the total award. Some say these awards remain woefully inadequate for suffering victims.
There are also limits on punitive damages. Colorado tort law refers to such compensation as “exemplary damages.” A victim cannot recover punitive damages that exceed the amount of actual damages that they receive. So, if a victim recovers $10,000 in actual (compensatory) damages, they can only receive up to $10,000 in punitive damages.
Benefits of the Tort Law System
Despite the criticisms, Colorado’s tort laws allow deserving victims to seek compensation for their losses. In some cases, a victim can even recover reasonable costs of litigation when the other side refuses a fair settlement offer.
In addition, state law allows injured victims to conduct what’s called “discovery.” This process helps the plaintiff and their lawyer gather evidence about the case in order to prepare their case for trial. In these ways, Colorado’s laws help facilitate the legal process so that deserving victims can get the compensation they deserve.
Consult a Colorado Tort Injury Lawyer
If you live in Colorado and have found yourself involved in a legal dispute, know that The Babcock Law Firm understands the ins and outs of tort law. We can help you receive the compensation you deserve.
To win a tort case, there are 3 elements that must be established in a claim:
- The defendant had a legal duty to act in a certain way,
- The defendant breached this duty by failing to act appropriately, and
- The plaintiff suffered injury or loss as a direct result of the defendant’s breach.