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As careful as we may be, accidents and injuries do occur. Many are nobody’s fault, but some are due to a person or company’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts.
If you’ve suffered injuries in Colorado and think it’s someone else’s fault, you may have questions about legal liability and financial compensation. Here are some of the most common questions victims have about personal injury lawsuits, and some helpful answers.
Obviously, you want to make sure that you and any other injured parties receive needed medical attention. During this process, you can begin documenting the accident with photographs, notes, witness interviews, police or other official reports, and any medical diagnoses or recommended treatment.
Any information you can gather could be important later, especially when events and memories are fresh. So be sure to record any personal injuries, property damage, or additional harm the accident caused.
The next steps you need to take will depend on the type of accident or injuries you suffered.
If you were injured on the job, you’ll probably need to fill out certain paperwork before filing a workers’ compensation insurance claim. There may also be a related, but separate, personal injury claim. If you’re involved in a car accident, you’ll need to contact your auto insurance company, and possibly the other driver’s as well. And there are special rules that require you to file a notice of claim with the appropriate municipal entity, if you’re injured on public property.
In any case, most injury claims resolve themselves quickly, without litigation. If not, and you do file a personal injury lawsuit, what normally comes next is called “discovery.” Both sides will attempt to investigate all aspects of the claim and gather as much information as possible. This can include oral depositions, requests for relevant records, and, depending on the type of accident or injury, hiring expert witnesses.
The parties may also exchange settlement offers or demands as the trial date nears. Almost all personal injury claims settle before trial. If you agree to settle your case, you will need to forego any further litigation and you may need to sign a nondisclosure agreement as well. You should never agree to a personal injury settlement without consulting with an attorney first.
There are all kinds of accidents and injuries, so the responsible parties will vary depending on how, where, and why your injuries occurred.
Most personal injury lawsuits fall under the general umbrella of negligence. In order to succeed on a negligence claim, you must prove each of four main elements:
You should also know that Colorado is a “modified comparative negligence” state, so your own negligence may be an issue in the case as well. For instance, if someone ran a red light and hit you with their car, but you were speeding as well, that could be a factor in reducing how much you could recover for your injuries.
As long as you are not more at fault for the accident than the other party, you can receive some compensation, but according to a percentage of your own liability. But if a jury determines that you were more than 50 percent at fault, you could recover nothing.
If you’re injured at someone else’s home, a public park, or a store, the property owners could be liable. Generally speaking, you would need to prove:
Keep in mind that the duty of care property owners owe visitors depends on the kind of visitor. There’s usually no need to warn trespassers about obviously dangerous conditions on their property, but they may need to take extra steps to keep social guests or customers safe. Also, remember that there may be special rules requiring written notice to municipalities before you can file a lawsuit for injuries sustained on public property.
All drivers also have a duty to operate motor vehicles with reasonable care. This is usually judged by what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances. If another driver fails to meet that standard, or they drive recklessly, they can be liable for damages caused by an accident.
Finally, companies are strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products, if the injuries occur because of a design, manufacture, or warning defect. Under strict liability theory, you don’t need to prove negligence, you only need to prove that a product was defective. This could be because the company designed a defective product, the product was manufactured improperly, or the company failed to warn you about a known defect. And Colorado law allows product liability lawsuits against designers, manufacturers, and retail stores, or in come cases all three.
Personal injury compensation generally comes in two forms: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include repairs for property damage, medical bills and expenses, and lost wages. Non-economic damages are things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
While there is normally no cap on economic damages, Colorado limits non-economic damages in certain cases. Medical malpractice victims, for instance, may only claim $250,000 for non-economic loss or injury. The state also prohibits damages for pain and suffering in workers’ compensation claims.
Each state has so-called “statutes of limitations” that limit the time an injured party has to file a claim or lawsuit. In Colorado, you have two years to file a personal injury claim in most cases. If the lawsuit is based on a car accident, you have three years, but if it is based on libel or slander, you only have one year.
Normally, the statute’s “clock” will start ticking on the date the accident occurs. However, in cases where the extent of the injuries or harm is not immediately ascertainable, the time limit doesn’t begin until you fully discover the harm.
In almost all instances, the parties can resolve personal injury claims quickly and without the need to go to court. But in every case, it is important to get the advice of counsel after the injury occurs. And if the initial offers don’t fully compensate you for your loss, you might want to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney to see whether pursuing a claim more formally is in your best interest. Consulting with an hiring an attorney is especially important if someone is claiming that you were at fault for their injuries.
The rate that most lawyers charge will vary depending on their experience and expertise. But many personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation to assess your case. Additionally, many lawyers will litigate your claim on a “contingency fee” basis, so they only get paid if you win your case.
Contact a local Colorado personal injury attorney if you have further questions about an injury claim.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills and other complications. You should have an attorney help you with your claim. Not sure if you have a good injury case? Speak to a local personal injury attorney about the merits of your case. This one step can help you protect your rights and take the proper next steps.