If you are in Colorado and involved in a slip-and-fall, car accident, dog bite, or pretty much any situation where another person’s conduct or negligence harmed you, a personal injury attorney might be able to help you get a settlement or damages through the court. However, many aren’t aware that there is a time limit for filing a suit against someone for personal injury in Colorado—a set of rules called a “Statute of Limitations.” While the limit is two years on paper, there are some instances in which it could be extended, which this article will discuss.
Why Have a Time Limit?
The least complex answer to the reason for a Colorado statute of limitations is so that the justice system won’t be taken advantage of. Injury cases that occurred decades ago are not likely to have strong evidence, and the courts want to prosecute more serious offenses. The logic is that serious offenses are most likely to enter the courts in a timely manner.
Laws change over time, which means that an act which may not have broken the law at one point certainly would if repeated after that act was outlawed. This is called “Ex Post Facto,” and the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from this type of prosecution.
However, a person suspected of a crime is in hiding or is in another state, the statute of limitations pauses until the accused re-enters the state.
In Colorado, personal injury cases are most often determined by a factor called “negligence.” When one person owes another a duty of some kind (such as a construction contractor, who is required to safely operate his/her tools, or a store manager who is required to post a sign indicating a floor is wet/slippery), and that duty is breached, even if by accident, they are considered negligent. If this negligence caused injury, then the injured person may hold the negligent party liable for damages they suffer.
“Damages” could be literal, such as the financial cost of medical care, but they could also be time lost from work due to the injury, or “pain and suffering,” which is more abstract:
Physical pain and suffering is the discomfort and damage to the person’s body. This also includes detrimental long-term effects that the person would endure as a result of their injury.
Mental pain and suffering is a result of the injuries sustained, and not the injuries themselves. Mental anguish, depression, humiliation, anxiety, shock, terror, or any other negative emotion or mental condition a person suffers as a result of their injuries.
Under Colorado law, a negligent party can be held liable for not only the pain and suffering that a person suffered in the past or is suffering at present, but also the potential pain and suffering endured in the future.
Keep in mind that “contributory negligence” is also considered by the court, and directly offsets the negligence of the accused. Contributory negligence is anything done or not done by the injured party which contributed to the incident that injured them. For example, if a person was bitten by a dog that was on a leash, and they did not ask the owner if they could interact with the dog, these factors would significantly diminish the damages that could be received by the injured party (if any, in such a case).
There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to calculate pain and suffering. It is ultimately up to the court to decide how much a person’s pain and suffering is worth, and the strength of their case is the key determining factor. A skilled and experienced Colorado personal injury attorney is crucial in this task, as he or she will represent your interests and maximize the sympathy you could receive from the court.
For almost all personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is two years, with notable exceptions.
First of all, any injury sustained as a result of a deliberate attack or altercation is in a different legal category. Everyone has something called “private right of action” for assault; that means that anyone who is the victim of assault has an automatic right to sue the alleged perpetrator.
Assault is in the realm of criminal assault, which is handled in criminal court, rather than civil court. In a criminal case, the prosecution is the ruling authority with jurisdiction over the type of accused crime, and the potential punishments are more severe—ranging from monetary damages (as in a civil case) to prison sentences. Limitations on these offenses depend on their severity—serious felonies such as “attempted murder” may have no limits, whereas others (such as assault defined as “criminal negligence”) may be only 3 years.
Slips and falls, dog bites, on-the-job injuries, non-vehicular accidents, or any other situation in which you are injured because of another’s negligence have a limit of two years to seek damages through the court. Cases of this nature often result in an out-of-court settlement, which usually favors the injured party. The best way to ensure that you have a Colorado personal injury case is to consult a qualified attorney—he or she will examine the facts of your situation and estimate what your case is worth, which damages to pursue, and will represent you before a judge or jury.
For personal injury cases involving car accidents, the statute of limitations is three years. This covers anything that could be defined as “bodily injury or property damage arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle.” (C.R.S. 13-80-101)
It’s important to stress that this limit is applied from the discovery of the injury, not necessarily from the time of the accident. This is to accommodate car accident injuries that may not be obvious right away, such as spinal compression or whiplash, which often present themselves long after the accident that caused them.
Colorado’s personal injury statute of limitations is a vital consideration when looking at filing a lawsuit, not just because it determines how long this will remain an option. Since most of these cases result in out-of-court settlements, the party you wish to sue (and their insurance company) is far more likely to work and negotiate with you and your attorney if they know that there is still time for the court to be an option for your dispute.
Exceptions to the Colorado Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
Colorado does provide a few possibilities for delaying, or “pausing” the statute of limitations deadline.
In Colorado, if a person is mentally unfit or a minor, they are considered “legally disabled.” Any period of legal disability pauses the statute’s time limit until the disability ends. This means that if someone falls into a coma following an accident, for example, and they take two years to recover from their incapacitation, in the court’s eyes, those two years never happened, and the “clock” on how long they have to file a suit only began running again when they woke up. Similarly, if someone sustained an accidental injury at age 16, the time limit for initiating litigation against the liable party does not begin running until they turn 18. Keep in mind, however, that if the incapacitated person or minor has a legal representative, this typically voids the delay on the statute of limitations for that person.
What If You Miss the Deadline?
If the deadline (whether two or three years) has passed and you still try to pursue litigation, the defense will most likely ask the court to dismiss the case. Notwithstanding special circumstances (which we’ll discuss below), the court will dismiss the case as requested.
Even if there is an exception in your particular case, it might not matter, as it will be at the court’s discretion whether to hear your case or not, and they might not think it’s worth the court’s time and resources if there is simply a technicality that would seem to disqualify you. Thus, it’s important to the integrity of your case that you have legal counsel from a Colorado personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after your injury is discovered.
If you are still unsure how Colorado’s statute of limitations applies to your case, don’t delay any longer—discuss your case with an experienced Colorado personal injury lawyer. Call Robinson & Henry at (303) 688-0944 for a free consultation.