Colorado Medical Malpractice Laws

A Colorado medical malpractice plaintiff needs to understand the statute of limitations filing deadline, the "certificate of review" requirement, and the state's cap on damages.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 5/24/2022

Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Colorado, be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Strict procedural rules need to be obeyed, volumes of medical records need to be sifted through and analyzed, and the plaintiff's "burden of proof" is substantial. In this article, we'll take a look at the Colorado filing deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits, the state's "certificate of review" requirement, and the Colorado cap on medical malpractice damages.

The Colorado Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

If you're thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Colorado, the first law you need to be aware of is the statute of limitations, which puts a strict limit on the amount of time you have to get your case started in the state's civil court system.

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases (which you can find at Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-102.5) gives you two years to get your lawsuit filed, starting from when the harm was inflicted or when you discover—or could reasonably have been expected to discover—that you were harmed by a medical error. The law goes on to say that you must get your case filed within three years of the alleged malpractice regardless of when it was discovered, unless:

  • the defendant concealed the malpractice
  • a surgical instrument or some other foreign object was left in your body after a medical procedure
  • you did not know about both the malpractice and your resulting injury, and you could not have discovered both, even with "the exercise of reasonable diligence and concern."

Finally, in Colorado, any lawsuit brought on behalf of a minor who was younger than six years of age at the time of the alleged medical malpractice must be filed before the child's eighth birthday.

If you wait too long to get your lawsuit started—in other words, you try to file it after the time limit has already passed—the court will almost certainly refuse to consider your claim (unless a rare exception acts to extend the deadline). That's why it's so important to comply with the statute of limitations.

The "Certificate of Review" in Colorado Medical Malpractice Cases

A Colorado medical malpractice plaintiff (or the plaintiff's attorney) must, within 60 days of serving the lawsuit on the defendant(s), file a "certificate of review" pertaining to each health care professional named in the case. The court might grant extra time to get the certificate filed if the plaintiff can show "good cause" for an extension.

This certificate must state that:

  • the plaintiff has consulted a medical expert in the area of medicine at issue, and
  • the expert has reviewed the plaintiff's claims and records, and has concluded that the lawsuit "does not lack substantial justification."

If the defendant health care professional is a physician, the certificate of review must include a declaration that the consulted expert meets Colorado's legal qualifications for testifying as an expert witness in medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors. Among other things, the expert must be a licensed physician in the same (or a similar) specialty as the defendant. If the defendant is a professional other than a physician, the certificate must still declare that the consulted expert is competent to express an opinion about the alleged negligence in the case, based on the expert's training, education, knowledge, and experience.

When a certificate of review is required, failure to file one will almost certainly result in the dismissal of your medical malpractice lawsuit.

This is a simplified explanation of Colorado's "certificate of review" requirement. Check out the full details at Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-20-602.

Does Colorado Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?

Yes. Like a lot of other states, Colorado has passed laws that limit the amount of compensation a patient can receive even after a jury has found that an error by a doctor or other health care professional caused the patient's injuries.

Colorado is a little unique in that the state actually has two caps on medical malpractice damages, both discussed in Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-64-302.

First, there is a $1 million "umbrella" cap on the total amount of compensation that a medical malpractice plaintiff can receive, including economic losses (such as payment of past and future medical bills, as well as compensation for lost income and reduced earning capacity) and noneconomic losses (which we'll explain in more detail below).

A plaintiff might be able to get around Colorado's $1 million cap if there is good cause for doing so and the court finds that economic damages would be more than the limit, and that application of the cap would be unfair under the specific circumstances of the case. But any amount in excess of $1 million would be limited to compensation for economic damages (typically for future medical care and future earnings).

The second damages cap in Colorado is a maximum of $300,000 for noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case. Noneconomic damages are those that aren't as easy to quantify or capture with a dollar amount. That includes compensation for "pain and suffering," loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness,and other subjective negative consequences of the defendant's medical malpractice. Colorado law specifically includes physical impairment and disfigurement in noneconomic damages subject to the cap.

This article provides a brief summary of some of the Colorado laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the state's laws will affect your potential situation, an experienced Colorado medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.

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