Colorado continues to experience a rising volume of vehicle accidents, many of which are quite severe. From 2014 to 2016, the Department of Transportation reported that there was a 24 percent increase in crash fatalities.
When a crash is based on a party’s negligence and there are injuries and/or significant property damage, grounds may exist for a claim of personal injury. In a personal injury action the plaintiff seeks to recover financial compensation to be “made whole” through a settlement or verdict. The value of recoverable compensation in an auto accident claim is not always apparent or easily calculated. There are a variety of potential factors to consider. Insurance adjusters may be the first to make an assessment, which might be a rough starting point for negotiation. In accidents with moderate to severe injuries and property damage, it is highly recommended that you seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer.
The at-fault party’s insurance company is generally who you will work with to recover compensation. The defendant’s insurance policy will have some financial limitations (maximums), which has an obvious impact on the potential amount that can be obtained. The minimum required insurance coverage for motorists in Colorado is $25,000 per person of bodily injury coverage ($50,000 per accident) and $15,000 in coverage for property damage. The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association says that it is recommended that drivers maintain a minimum of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Your car accident claim is largely calculated by assessing the damages that were actually incurred.
Types of Damages
- Economic: These are damages that are generally quantifiable. Medical expenses may be a significant cost, which in cases with severe injury may include the costs for future medical care. There may be lost wages due to an inability to work and in cases of permanent disability, the loss of future wages and possible earning capacity. The amount of property damages would also need to be determined, which includes the repair or replacement cost of your vehicle and other related expenses such as interim costs of a rental vehicle.
- Non-economic: These damages are generally less quantifiable and more discretionary in nature. The most common would be compensation for pain and suffering, reflecting the severity of the injury. Others include losses of enjoyment or consortium, which may account for harm that the accident inflicted on loved ones.
- Punitive: These damages apply in rare instances where it is determined that the defendant’s actions were intentional, malicious, or conducted with fraudulent intent. Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are awarded to punish the negligent party and potentially act as a deterrent to acting in such a manner. Colorado imposes a cap on punitive damages.
The majority of states will assess fault proportionally in an accident if more than one party demonstrated some degree of negligence. Colorado uses a variation known as the modified comparative fault rule. For example, if it is determined that the plaintiff’s fault in the accident was 10%, the total award amount that is recoverable would be reduced by 10%. The plaintiff is eligible to recover damages in an action as long as they were less than 50% at-fault in the accident. If there are multiple defendants, they may each be liable for the percentage of fault that the jury or judge determines they contributed.
Limitations on Damages
The Colorado General Assembly has imposed financial limitations on the amount recoverable for non-economic damages for the betterment of the public. In civil cases, outside of those for medical malpractice, the legislature originally implemented a cap of $250,000 for non-economic damages. Under certain justifiable circumstances, this limitation is extended to $500,000. These amounts are adjusted for inflation and currently are $468,010, or $936,030 based on justifiable circumstances. There is no limitation on the amount recoverable for economic damages. Punitive damages generally may not exceed the amount of actual damages; however, under special circumstances, this may be increased up to three times that of the actual damages.
Thus, as you can see, there are numerous factors that are considered to evaluate the worth of your claim. It is not a simple task in most cases, especially if the injuries are moderate to serious.