What is the Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Cases in Colorado?

Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in Colorado Explained

Every year there are millions of vehicle accidents in the United States, accounting for the death of approximately 46,000 people. An additional 4.4 million are injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Road crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for persons aged 1–54, with the traffic fatality rate being 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants [1].

Vehicle accidents happen for many reasons, including distracted driving, driving under the influence, and reckless driving. As a result, they may cause various degrees of injury to the drivers themselves, passengers, or those who simply happen to be in the vicinity of the accident. In worst-case scenarios, they may even end up being fatal.

Following a Car Accident

The first and absolute priority when a car accident occurs is safety. It is crucial that you stay as calm as possible and call 911, to make sure that everyone involved receives appropriate treatment and that the accident is duly documented and recorded.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, you may also be entitled to claim compensation for personal injury. Generally speaking, car accident victims can claim special damages or damages that can be calculated exactly. These include, among others, medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, loss of earning ability, and reimbursement for the repair or replacement of their vehicle.

Additionally, car accident victims may be able to claim noneconomic damages, i.e. compensation for pain and suffering. Although Colorado has no caps in place with regard to economic compensatory damages, there are limits on non-economic awards.

For a successful outcome:

  • Victims of car accidents need to make accurate calculations of the compensation they seek and back it up with all the required evidence.
  • It is also essential to accurately determine liability and identify the party at fault for the accident.
  • Finally, you will have to act quickly and make sure that all necessary steps are followed and the required formalities are met, as you have a limited time to file a claim for compensation.

Therefore, knowing what to do, how to do it, and when, will be crucial. Having an experienced legal team on your side, ready to offer guidance and fight for the best possible outcome will drastically increase your chances of success. Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado have the knowledge, expertise, and commitment it takes to support car accident victims to get the compensation they deserve.

Time Limits for Filing Your Claim

In most personal injury claims, time is of the essence: you need to act carefully but also quickly to ensure that you comply with the applicable statutes of limitation, as not doing so might mean that you will not be able to receive compensation.

Being involved in a car accident is often highly stressful on many levels and the days following it can be chaotic. While you need to focus on getting appropriate medical care that will help you along your healing journey, you must also remain vigilant about the deadline by which you need to file a lawsuit or your insurance claim.

According to Title 13 of the Colorado Revised Statutes [2], the baseline for filing a claim related to a car accident is three years from the date of the accident or discovery of the injury. This includes related claims, such as if the driver who caused your injury was uninsured.

So, if you have suffered an injury caused by a car accident you must bring your claim within three years from when the accident happened or when you became aware of your injuries, otherwise you may not be able to bring a legal claim at all.

In view of this, each day that passes by without you filing may increase the difficulty of collecting evidence or locating witnesses. This may result in adverse effects in recovering your compensation. Hence, you should generally file your claim as soon as possible.

Likewise, it pays off if you start working with your lawyer sooner rather than later after being injured in a car accident. This will let them investigate the matter more effectively, collect all required evidence concerning your injuries and the circumstances of the accident and, thus, increase your chances of success.

Having said that, rushing to file a claim may not always be in your best interests.

The pressure of time limitations, coupled with the need to submit as strong a claim as possible in relation to the injuries you have suffered, can be a complicated matter that calls for appropriate professional consideration.

For example, a number of injuries, such as spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injury, and internal bleeding, may not be discovered immediately after the accident. Even when they are diagnosed, it may be a while before their full extent and effect are determined. In such cases, it may be best if you do not file your claim immediately.

This is why you should seek the advice of a seasoned personal injury lawyer, who will be able to advise you on a number of related matters, including whether you should be claiming compensation immediately following your accident or if it might be best to wait for related costs to evolve, while also adhering to the applicable time limits.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Although the overall time limit for filing your insurance claim or a lawsuit in Colorado pertaining to a car accident is set at three years, there are some exceptions that may either extend or shorten this deadline.

Courts are able to grant extensions in certain cases, particularly—though not exclusively—when defendants are found to have hidden information or given misleading testimony.

Some key examples of exceptional situations include the following.

The “Discovery of Harm” Rule

The “discovery of harm” rule refers to the fact that the injuries may not be known at the time of the accident. The three-year period may be extended if the injured person had no knowledge of either the injury itself or the fact that it was the defendant’s actions that caused the injury.

In this case, you will still have to provide proof that you were not aware of the injuries immediately in order to extend the Colorado statute of limitations to this time.

Age and Mental Competence

An exception may be given if the defendant is a minor or mentally incompetent. Specifically, If the defendant is under 18 at the time of the accident or legally incompetent/unfit to stand trial, the statute of limitations is tolled until the incompetency is removed or the minor reaches age 18.

A similar provision is made in case the injured person was a minor or mentally incompetent. If the victim was under the age of 18, disabled, or mentally ill at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations may be extended in their favor. In such cases, the clock may stop running until the period of legal disability is over, i.e. when the injured person turns 18 or has their mental competence restored.

This typically applies when the injury victim has no legal representative who can file a claim on their behalf. In cases where there is such a legal representative, there will likely be no change to the prescribed filing deadline.

When the Defendant Has Left the State

If the defendant in your case is either outside of the state of Colorado and not subject to service of process or has actively concealed themselves, filing an insurance claim or a lawsuit may be practically impossible. In such cases, the court may give some leniency and grant you some extra time to file.

The Defendant Is Dead or Imprisoned

If the defendant in your case dies during the accident or before you file your claim, you may be able to bring a claim against their estate.

Likewise, if the defendant is imprisoned when a cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations will normally be tolled. Therefore, if this is the case with your accident, you will have the option to wait until they have made parole, as the deadline for filing may be extended.

The Defendant or Plaintiff Is on Military Duty

Generally speaking, the law tends to protect individuals that are active members of the armed forces. In view of this, in situations where either the defendant or the plaintiff is on active military duty, the statute of limitations is tolled until their return. Likewise, in situations where a state may be at war, courts will typically wait until the state is no longer embattled for suits to continue.

Tolling Agreements

Both sides involved in a car accident can enter a private tolling agreement to waive the statute of limitations. The plaintiff typically retains the right to file if no settlement is reached once both sides have the opportunity to assess their respective positions and come to a decision.

Car Accidents Involving a Government Entity

While the time limit for most car accidents in Colorado is three years, you only have 180 days from the date of the accident to file an administrative claim with the responsible government agency.

In fact, depending on the place where an accident occurred and with whom it involved, the statute of limitations may be shortened even further, while certain government employees may even have immunity from suits.

If your car accident involved a government entity in any kind of way, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced injury lawyer, as there are many rules and exceptions in place that you should be aware of.

Dram Shop Laws and Car Accident Cases in Colorado

People will usually blame a drunk driver who causes a serious accident. Dram shop laws, however, create a so-called “duty of care” to the victims of drunk driving crashes.

Dram shop laws involve businesses that sell alcoholic beverages to the public, such as bars, taverns, restaurants, etc. The businesses are liable for serving or selling alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons who later cause death, injury, or property damage to another person.

The origins of these laws are traced back to the 19th century, during the temperance movements that ultimately led to the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Today, they are still enacted on a state level.

A Duty of Care

Colorado Revised Statutes section 12-47-801 is Colorado’s dram shop law [3]. It stipulates that if a person is injured as a result of a drunk driving crash, they may be able to hold a bar, establishment, restaurant, social host, or other businesses accountable in various circumstances involving over-serving the drunk driver.

If you have been injured in a drunk driving crash, this is something you may wish to explore, as Colorado’s dram shop laws may afford you an additional opportunity to seek compensation.

In such cases, Colorado allows only a one-year statute of limitations. At the same time, it should also be noted that, as a plaintiff, you will have to prove that the vendor willfully and knowingly served or sold alcohol to someone under 21 or who was visibly intoxicated—which will obviously be a very high threshold to meet.

Contact Legal help in Colorado

If you have been injured in a car crash, contact Legal Help in Colorado today for a free consultation or call now (720) 664-9435, so we can discuss your case in absolute confidence. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will not have to pay us any fees until you receive your payment.


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

[2] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/images/olls/crs2017-title-13.pdf

[3] https://law.justia.com/codes/colorado/2016/title-12/general-continued/article-47/part-8/section-12-47-801

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