Car accidents happen every single day throughout the United States, including in Colorado. In fact, the U.S. suffers the most road crash deaths of any high-income country, as more than 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, while an additional 20–50 million suffer non-fatal injuries, often resulting in long-term disabilities [1].

Consequently, it is crucial for any person who experiences a car accident, regardless of whether it appears to be very serious or not, to know the various laws that apply in our state and are likely to come into play in the event of subsequent legal proceedings. For instance, there are specific laws covering who might qualify to claim compensation and for what kind of damage suffered, whether you should call the police at your accident scene, the obligations of insurance companies, the formalities that need to be met, including time limits for car accident claims, etc.

If you have been involved in a car accident, this knowledge will let you understand the laws that are in place and the rights you may have, which can be critical in terms of exercising them effectively. As this is a rather complicated area of law, with a lot to take into consideration and a number of formalities that need to be met, seeking the advice of an experienced legal professional can prove to be invaluable in terms of offering you the necessary guidance and support in such stressful situations.

Reporting Your Car Accident

In Colorado, all drivers have a duty to report a car accident to law enforcement if they result in personal injury or property damage [2]. It is highly advisable that you call the police to the scene even if the accident appears to be minor and does not seem to involve serious injuries or property damages.

One of the main benefits of having the police respond to the scene, apart from making sure that things remain calm, is that this is the only way to have your accident investigated properly, determine fault, and have an official accident report filed. The report itself will stand as an official record of what happened, which may be essential if you then decide to file a claim or a lawsuit.

Of course, it is possible that the responding officer may choose not to write a report for a minor accident, particularly if there are no injuries and the damages appear to be under $1,000. Nevertheless, you should err on the side of caution, especially considering that failure to report a car accident in Colorado is a class two misdemeanor traffic offense [3].

You should also report a car accident to the police even if it happens on private property. In such cases, the police do not generally have jurisdiction to issue citations or determine fault. Even so, they can still document the scene and choose to issue a police report. For car accidents occurring on private properties, this can be extremely useful, as insurance companies are often reluctant to pay a related claim without a police report.

The Main Legal Framework

In Colorado, there are various rules, laws, and insurance procedures that set out the rights and obligations of the parties involved in a car accident.

Colorado Traffic Laws

To begin with, Colorado traffic laws, which are listed in Colorado Revised Statutes Title 42 [4], set out the rules of the road for vehicle travel in our state. They cover a number of topics, ranging from drinking & driving violations, driving without a license or insurance, and speeding, to mechanical violations, reckless driving, and seat belt/child restraint violations. These rules are often of key importance when an accident occurs.

Car Accident Compensation

Generally speaking, if you suffered injuries in the context of a car accident in Colorado, you may be entitled to receive compensation from the party (or parties) responsible for your injuries. What this essentially boils down to is that Colorado is an at-fault state. This means that you can file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, irrespective of the severity of your injuries—unlike in no-fault states when accident victims are generally required to file a claim through their own insurance company.

Based on this fault-based system, losses you may suffer due to a car accident will be covered by the at-fault driver’s car insurance company, up to the driver’s liability coverage limits.

If you are unable to receive the compensation that you (or your attorney) believe you deserve through the car insurance process, you could also file a civil lawsuit against the at-fault party in Colorado. To be able to do so, you must comply with the Colorado statute of limitations, which prescribes the amount of time that victims have to bring their car accident case to court.

In Colorado, if you are injured in the context of a car accident you may be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages [5]. Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, you may be able to receive compensation for the full spectrum of your losses, including the medical care required for your car accident injuries, the ensuing pain and suffering, lost income, and other economic losses. Punitive damages may also be available in exceptional cases, especially if the person who caused the injury acted in a willful and wanton manner.

Compensation Limits

Having said that, you should be aware of the fact that Colorado laws establish various caps on the amount of money you, as a car accident victim, can recover from a lawsuit. These depend on the type of damages you have suffered, the cause of action, and the identity of the defendant.

There is currently no limit to the amount you may recover in economic damages in Colorado but the caps in place limit recovery to $250,000 for pain and suffering [6]. This amount may increase up to $500,000 if there is clear and convincing evidence that an increase is warranted.

The same amount is available in wrongful death damages, while up to $150,000 may be claimed for a dram shop claim, i.e. a claim that involves businesses that sell alcoholic beverages to the public, such as bars, taverns, restaurants, etc.

In addition, no more than the plaintiff’s actual damage may be awarded in punitive damages.

Insurance companies, on the other hand, are also under a legal obligation to act in good faith, meaning that they must pay claims promptly when an accident occurs, and refrain from unreasonably delaying payment of a valid claim [7]. Breaching this obligation may give rise to legal action.

Colorado Is a Comparative Fault State

At the same time, Colorado is also a comparative fault state that applies comparative negligence law [8]. This concept is applicable in situations where more than one party is at least partially at fault for an accident.

The principle of comparative negligence dictates that, when an accident occurs, the fault and/or negligence of each party involved is based upon their respective contributions to the accident. If, for example, your injury was partially due to inattention, poor decision-making, or illegal activity on your part, then your damages may be reduced by your percentage of fault.

More specifically, if you, as a car accident victim in Colorado, are found to have contributed to your own injuries, the court will reduce your financial award by an amount equivalent to your degree of fault for the car accident, applying the notion of 50% modified comparative negligence. In simple terms, if it is established that you are 50% or more at fault for the car crash, you will not receive anything for your damages. If, on the other hand, you are found to be 20% liable for your injuries, the total amount of your award will be reduced by 20%.

Liability Insurance

Colorado uses a tort-based car insurance law. There are car insurance requirements in place that are applicable to every vehicle operator in the state. These requirements make it illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle if they have not purchased adequate amounts of insurance. Therefore, all automobile owners in Colorado are required to carry liability insurance that covers bodily injury to another person or property damage to another’s vehicle or property when the insured is at fault for an accident.

Even though a driver may choose to purchase additional insurance, the minimum coverages currently required [9] are:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death to any one person in an accident;
  • $50,000 for bodily injury or death to all persons in any one accident; and
  • $15,000 for property damage in any one accident.

Assuming you can determine who is liable for your injuries, you will also need to make sure to file a claim or lawsuit within the prescribed time limits. It is important that you report the accident to the at-fault party’s insurance company as soon as possible, and preferably within 24 hours of its occurrence, to ensure you meet the insurance company’s requirements.

If you are unable to receive the compensation that you (or your attorney) believe you deserve through the car insurance process, you could also file a civil lawsuit against the at-fault party in Colorado. To be able to do so, you must comply with the Colorado statute of limitations, which prescribes the amount of time that victims have to bring their car accident case to court.

In accordance with § 13-80-101 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, the general deadline for initiating a case by victims of car accidents is within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter [10]. You need to bear in mind, however, that exceptions to this time limit may be applicable. For example, if you are filing a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one, you have two years from the date of the victim’s death to file [11].

It is important to keep in mind that fulfilling the statute of limitations means that you need to file a lawsuit in the court of jurisdiction within the prescribed time limit applicable to your individual case. Therefore, simply reporting it and negotiating with the insurance company will not suffice.

Getting the Compensation You Deserve

As with all accidents, each car accident is unique and, more often than not, communication with the at-fault party’s insurance company can be challenging. In fact, if your injuries are quite significant, it is quite possible that the minimum insurance coverage prescribed by law will not cover your losses. In such cases, you may have to take further action against those responsible for your accident, in the form of a lawsuit.

Regardless of how complicated or severe your case may be and what course of action you might decide to take, it always helps to have proper legal support. Employing the services of an experienced professional who is aware of the extensive requirements and complications involved in car accidents, not intimidated by common tactics employed by insurance companies, and willing to fight your case so you can get the compensation you deserve is the best way to proceed.

Legal Help in Colorado has extensive experience, the aggressive approach it takes to negotiate the best deal on your behalf, and a proven track record in assisting car accident victims. Initial consultations are free and conducted in absolute confidence, while our contingency-based financial arrangement means you will not have to pay us any fees until you receive your payment.

If you are exploring the possibility of employing the services of a top-rated personal injury attorney, call us at (303) 351-2567, or visit our offices at 6795 E. Tennessee Ave. #210, Denver, CO, 80224 to discuss your case in complete confidence.

References

[1] https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/

[2] https://law.justia.com/codes/colorado/2021/title-42/article-4/part-16/section-42-4-1606/

[3] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/14_crimeclassificationguidemisdtraf2.pdf

[4] https://www.findlaw.com/traffic/traffic-tickets/colorado-traffic-laws.html

[5] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/images/olls/2003a_sl_271.pdf

[6] All numbers as of 2023, adjusted for inflation

[7] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/images/olls/2008a_sl_422.pdf

[8] https://law.justia.com/codes/colorado/2016/title-13/damages-and-limitations-on-actions/article-21/part-1/section-13-21-111

[9] https://leg.colorado.gov/content/mandatory-automobile-insurance-colorado

[10] https://law.justia.com/codes/colorado/2018/title-13/limitation-of-actions/article-80/section-13-80-101/

[11] https://law.justia.com/codes/colorado/2016/title-13/damages-and-limitations-on-actions/article-21/part-2/section-13-21-201