Colorado Car Accident Laws

Time limits for filing a Colorado car accident lawsuit, the state's rules when more than one driver is at fault for a crash, and more.

After a traffic accident in Colorado, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant vehicle damage, you might want to examine your options for holding the at-fault driver financially responsible for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Colorado laws that could have a big impact on your case.

The Colorado Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on a potential plaintiff’s right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

In most states, the statute of limitations that applies to car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases where one person’s negligence is said to have caused injury to another. But in Colorado, lawmakers have passed a specific deadline that applies to lawsuits over car accidents, whether for personal injury, damage to a vehicle, or both. Specifically, Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-101 says that "All tort actions for bodily injury or property damage arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle" must be "commenced within three years after the cause of action accrues." In plain English, that means an injury claim arising from any kind of vehicle accident -- whether by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- must be filed within three years, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident. The same deadline applies to a lawsuit for vehicle damage caused by a car accident.

If someone dies as a result of a car accident in Colorado, and their family wants to file a wrongful death claim, the statute of limitations deadline is two years, and the "clock" starts on the date of the person’s death (which might be different from the date of the accident).

Having read all this, you may be wondering what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and you try to file your Colorado car accident lawsuit anyway. In that situation, the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) will point out the passage of the deadline in a motion to dismiss, and any Colorado court is certain to grant the dismissal (unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline). That’s why it’s crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation.

Finally, from a strategic standpoint, it’s always a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you think your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. Keeping all your options on the table will give you more leverage during settlement talks. So if the statute of limitations filing deadline is close, it may be time to talk with an experienced Colorado car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Colorado Car Accident Cases

"Comparative fault" refers to the situation where more than one party is at least partially at fault for an accident. States follow different approaches in this scenario.

Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-21-111 says that, in a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover against any party who was more at-fault than you were, but your damages (your financial recovery) will be reduced by a percentage that corresponds to your share of liability. In legalese, this means Colorado is a "modified comparative negligence" state.

Of course, this rule controls judge or jury awards in civil lawsuits (if you get to that stage). But before you get to that point, a car insurance claims adjuster will negotiate a settlement with an eye on Colorado's comparative fault rules. Keep in mind that because there is not a precise method to apportion fault empirically, the ultimate decision as to fault will depend on your ability to negotiate with an insurance claim adjuster, or to convince a judge or jury.

To see how this rule plays out in real life, we’ll take a look at an example. Let’s say you're driving a few miles-per-hour over the speed limit when another driver suddenly makes a left turn in front of you. Without enough time to stop, you collide with the other car. The other driver is found to be 80 percent at fault, but since you were speeding, the jury (or adjuster) figures that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident. If you would otherwise be entitled to a $10,000 award or settlement, it would be reduced to $8,000 based on your 20-percent share of fault.

One last note: You will not be able to recover anything at all under Colorado's modified comparative negligence rule if your share of fault for the accident meets or exceeds 50 percent.

Colorado Auto Insurance Requirements

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Colorado, like most states, requires vehicle owners to maintain certain minimum amounts of liability coverage. So, understanding the Colorado auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.

Reporting a Car Accident in Colorado

Most of a driver's legal responsibilities after a Colorado car accident are spelled out in Colorado Revised Statutes Title 42, Article 4, Part 16.

Colorado Revised Statutes section 42-4-1606 says that in Colorado, a driver who is involved in a traffic accident must report the crash if it resulted in:

  • injury to, serious bodily injury to, or death of any person, or
  • any property damage.

So a car accident needs to be reported in Colorado (to the nearest office of the local police or sheriff's department) even if no one was hurt, as long as one or more vehicles incurred even a very minor amount of damage. As you might imagine, that means almost every accident needs to be reported.

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