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.

By , J.D.
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  • After a traffic accident in Colorado, if you've been injured and/or incurred vehicle damage, you might want to get familiar with a few state laws—whether or not you end up making a claim for your losses—including:

    • how fault works in Colorado car accident cases
    • the deadline for filing most car accident lawsuits in Colorado's civil court system
    • how Colorado's "modified comparative fault" rule affects a car accident case, and
    • the requirements for reporting a car accident in Colorado.

    How Does Fault Affect a Colorado Car Accident Case?

    Colorado follows a traditional "fault"-based system when it comes to liability for injuries and other losses after a car accident.

    Around a dozen states follow a "no-fault" system for car accidents, at least when it comes to car insurance, meaning your own insurance covers certain losses after a crash, regardless of who caused it.

    Not so in Colorado, however, where the person at fault for the car accident is also on the financial hook for injuries, vehicle damage, and other effects of the accident. Practically speaking, that means the at-fault driver's car insurance company will cover other people's losses resulting from the accident, up to the driver's liability coverage limits.

    Learn more about proving fault for a car accident.

    What Car Accident Losses Are Compensated In Colorado?

    As part of any car insurance claim or lawsuit you file after a Colorado car accident, you're entitled to compensation for the full spectrum of your losses (these losses are called "damages" in the language of the law), including:

    • medical care for your car accident injuries
    • your pain and suffering resulting from the accident and your injuries, and
    • lost income, financial impact of your inability to work, and other economic losses.

    Colorado Statutes of Limitations and Car Accidents

    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.)

    Colorado's Special Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Lawsuits

    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, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, 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.

    Colorado's Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Could Apply to Car Accident Cases

    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 typically two years, and the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death (which might be different from the date of the accident).

    What If You Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Colorado?

    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 a car 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.

    What Are Colorado's 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.

    When Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Colorado?

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

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

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

    Keep in mind that if a law enforcement officer came to the scene of your accident, you likely don't need to file any paperwork, since the law enforcement agency will prepare its own paperwork related to the crash. But if no law enforcement agency responded to the accident scene, the obligation to report it falls on you. Get more Crash Information (including details on reporting online) from the Colorado State Patrol, and get more tips on what to do after a car accident.

    Getting Help After a Colorado Car Accident

    It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state's car accident laws, but if you've been hurt in a crash, you might need more than just information. Learn more about when you might need a lawyer after a car accident. And if you're ready to reach out to a Colorado car accident lawyer now, you can always use the features right on this page to connect with a legal professional in your area.

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