How the typical personal injury case proceeds in Colorado
If you sustained an injury in a Colorado accident, it is important that you understand the process involved in making an injury claim.
The claims process that you will encounter depends on the nature of your claim, your injuries and the specifics of your case.
How Long Will My Injury Claim Take?
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Automotive claims in Colorado
If you were injured in an automotive accident, there are several principles that you should understand when moving forward with your claim. You may be able to recover from the property damage and physical injuries that you suffer from by filing a claim with the applicable insurance company.
Colorado is an at-fault injury state, meaning that the insurance company that provides coverage to the driver who was at fault pays for the damages that the driver who was not at fault sustains.
Minimum liability coverage
Every driver in Colorado is required to carry a minimum amount of liability coverage so that another driver is protected in the event that the insured causes the accident.
This minimum liability insurance coverage includes $25,000 per person for bodily injury, $50,000 for the accident for bodily injury and $15,000 for property damage.
Uninsured motorist coverage
If the at-fault driver did not have insurance at the time of the accident or the insurance was insufficient to cover your damages, the driver who was not at fault may be able to file a claim with his or her own insurance company through uninsured motorist coverage.
This can be applied under uninsured motorist coverage if the person was not insured or is an unidentified hit and run driver or underinsured motorist coverage if the coverage did not adequately compensate the victim for the damages that he or she sustained.
Filing a claim with an insurance company
Before filing a claim with an insurance company, you may wish to contact a personal injury lawyer to represent you.
Insurance adjusters are trained to get information to ultimately justify a denial or to use against you.
Insurance adjusters may feign concern for your injuries, but they are ultimately employed by the insurance company and look out for the insurance company’s interests. (Read what constitutes bad faith by an insurance company.)
Potential damages can include property damage, medical bills, lost wages and other forms of damages. Therefore, insurance adjusters may try to make a settlement that undercuts these costs.
Assistance from personal injury lawyers
A personal injury lawyer should be contacted as early in the process as possible.
Personal injury lawyers represent the interests of the person who was hurt and ensure that proper steps are taken.
What a personal injury lawyer does during the claims process
A personal injury lawyer may recommend that you seek medical treatment for any injuries that you’ve sustained. He or she may also help gather documents that justify damage claims. Personal injury lawyers also handle communication with the insurance company so that the victim does not say anything or provide information to the insurance company that may adversely affect his or her claim.
Once the personal injury lawyer can accurately estimate the amount of damages that the victim has sustained, he or she may submit a demand letter to the insurance company. This letter details the events that led up to the accident as well as an explanation of the damages sustained.
Negotiations as part of the Colorado injury claim process
The insurance adjuster may accept the amount suggested in the demand letter and provide instructions on settling the claim.
But more likely, the insurance adjuster may make a counter-offer to settle the claim for less than your personal injury lawyer requested.
The lawyer and insurance company may go back and forth with negotiations. You have the right to accept or decline any settlement offer, although your lawyer can make recommendations on what he or she believes is fair.
The vast majority of accident claims are settled.
If the case is settled, the insurance company will require you to sign documents that release the defendant from any claim.
The insurance company may state when the insurance settlement check will be issued. There may be a medical lien for any medical expenses that must be paid before you can receive any compensation from the insurance company. Your lawyer will also receive the amount agreed upon based on the retainer agreement and contingency fee. (Learn more about negotiating fees with a personal injury lawyer.)
Litigation in Colorado
If a settlement is not reached, you may decide to litigate your case in court, formally filing a lawsuit.
If you choose this path, your lawyer prepares a legal complaint that outlines the events involving the accident and your right to recover. This complaint is usually filed in the county court where the victim resides. A copy of this complaint is served on the defendant who then has a limited amount of time to submit a response.
After these initial pleadings, the parties may start the discovery process.
This process is the way that each party learns about the case of the other party. The parties may ask for the other side to identify documents, witnesses and other evidence that it plans to submit during the court trial.
This information must be prepared under oath. The lawyers may present certain legal motions, such as a motion to dismiss the case or a motion requesting the judge to make a decision about the case. If these motions are denied, the case proceeds to trial and a trial date is set.
At trial, each side has an opportunity to present its argument and evidence in front of a jury. The jury determines whether the defendant is responsible for the accident. If it concludes that the defendant is responsible, it will then determine the appropriate amount of damages. Colorado does observe a number of laws pertaining to damage caps that can affect the ultimate amount of damages that you receive.
If the defendant does not like the decision reached by the jury, it may decide to appeal the case, which involves an additional process and more time.
An appeal focuses on any legal errors or violations that were made during the trial and within the arguments for and against motions.
Statute of limitations in Colorado
It is imperative that you file a personal injury lawsuit before the deadline expires. You only have two years from the date of your accident to file a claim in Colorado, except for certain cases. Otherwise, your claim can be barred from being resolved in court.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.