How Colorado state laws limit the amount of damages you can sue for in your personal injury case
After an accident, it can be difficult to know exactly how you’re going to cover your expenses.
Luckily, personal injury victims have the right to pursue compensation for the economic and non-economic damages that they sustain after an accident. However, there are various Colorado laws that establish a cap on the amount of money that these victims can recover from a lawsuit.
Colorado Damage Caps
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Links to Colorado code
Pain & suffering C.R.S. 13-21-102.5
Medical malpractice C.R.S. 13-64-302
Dram shop C.R.S. 12-47-801
Wrongful death C.R.S. 13-21-203
Punitive damages C.R.S. 13-21-102
Types of damages
There are various types of damages that Colorado personal injury victims may seek, including:
Economic damages in Colorado
Economic damages are those that can usually be established through verifiable means. They represent monetary losses and anticipated monetary losses.
These damages include and are verified in the following manner:
- Medical expenses - Copies of medical records and bills substantiate these costs. Records of purchases for prescription medications and assistive devices can also be used. Mileage to and from the doctor's office can be recorded in a log.
- Lost income - Check stubs and tax records demonstrate the amount of money that a person would have earned had he or she not been injured.
- Lost benefits - The use of benefits such as vacation time or paid time off can usually be substantiated through employment records.
- Property damage - Repair bills or the cost of replacement demonstrates the value of property that is damaged, such as the cost to repair your car after a car accident.
- Lost earning capacity - In some cases, the victim's injuries are of such a nature or to such a degree that he or she cannot return to the same line of work. An economic expert may need to be retained to calculate how much the victim would have likely received over the course of his or her lifetime given his or her employment history, education, skills, age and history of promotions.
See the Boulder County Bar Association’s information on damages, costs and attorney’s fees in Colorado.
Non-economic damages in Colorado
Non-economic damages are those that are more subjective in nature. They do not correspond to a certain dollar amount and are usually decided by lawyers, insurance adjusters or juries.
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Stress and anxiety
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
Because these damages are more subjective in nature, the jury must often rely on its own belief of what these damages should account for in a monetary award.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded. They are meant to punish or deter future similar conduct when the circumstances involved in the case are particularly egregious.
Damage caps in Colorado based on type of damage
Most damage caps in Colorado are based on the type of damage in question.
Colorado law does not limit the amount of economic damages that are awarded in most cases. Instead, the cap is imposed on the non-economic damages for such losses as grief, sorrow, loss of enjoyment of life, physical and mental pain and suffering, or emotional distress.
Personal injury caps based on date of accident
Colorado law imposes damage caps for non-economic damages in the following manner, with amounts periodically adjusted for inflation:
- $250,000 or $500,000 for accidents occurring before January 1, 1998
- $366,250 or $732,500 for accidents occurring from January 1, 1998 to January 1, 2008
- $468,010 or $936,030 for accidents occurring after January 1, 2008
In order to justify the double amount of the award for non-economic damages, the court must have clear and convincing evidence.
Application when multiple defendants are responsible
The damage cap applies to each defendant and not simply to the cause of action. Therefore, the victim could potentially recover $936,020 from each of two defendants in an accident that occurred in 2016.
Wrongful death act in Colorado
There are different provisions when the personal injury resulted in the victim's death. Unlike with personal injury claims not involving death, the amount of damages is capped for the cause of action.
For wrongful death, the non-economic damages cap is $250,000, plus inflation (or $500,000 plus inflation if there is clear and convincing evidence an increase is warranted).
On caps applying to wrongful death, the Boulder Bar also says:
Alternatively, the law makes available a "solatium" whereby a claiming survivor who does not wish to undertake the task of proving non-economic losses may, after proving that the death was wrongful under the law, automatically receive $68,250 [$50,000 plus inflation] as total compensation for non-economic losses.
This cap is not applied if the court finds that the death is a result of felonious killing; this includes murder or manslaughter, for example. Recovering under this exception does not require that the defendant has already been convicted of the felony or even charged with a felony.
Damages based on cause of action
Colorado also imposes damage caps based on particular causes of action. Those causes of action can include:
Medical malpractice arises when a doctor, hospital, nursing home, nurse, or other healthcare provider's medical services falls below the appropriate standard of care and results in the victim's injury.
For medical malpractice cases, the non-economic cap is $300,000 (increased in 2003 from $250,000); see C.R.S. 13-64-302. There is a maximum cap for all damages of $1 million.
The statutes also say:
The limitations of this section are not applicable to a health care professional who is a public employee under the "Colorado Governmental Immunity Act" and are not applicable to a certified health care institution which is a public entity under the "Colorado Governmental Immunity Act".
You also may not make the permanent physical impairment argument in medical malpractice cases (the cap specifically includes the value of permanent physical impairment already).
Dram shop, DUI, or drunk driving accident damages cap
The maximum cap for this type of claim is $280,810 regardless of the source of injury.
Punitive damage caps
In addition to the other damage caps, Colorado also puts a cap on punitive damages.
While Colorado allows a jury to award these damages meant to punish the defendant, Colorado caps the amount of the award on a one-to-one basis. This means that the award of punitive damages cannot exceed the amount of actual damages that the jury awards.
For example, if the jury awards $500,000 for economic damages, the most it can award for punitive damages is $500,000.
When the defendant is the government
Colorado imposes damage caps when the state of Colorado or a local governmental agency, governmental subdivision, municipality, or city is the defendant. For an individual claim, the cap is $350,000 or $990,000 that is if there are multiple claims stemming from a single incident. This number is adjusted each year for inflation based on the consumer price index.
How damage caps operate
Although a jury may provide a higher award, the court will reduce the amount of the award to comply with the damage cap law after the verdict is rendered. This results in the victim not receiving as much in damages as the jury believed was fair.
Read more on damages in Colorado from the Boulder County Bar Association.