In Colorado, as in every state, after a slip and fall accident on someone else's property, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses -- especially if it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in your accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Colorado laws and legal rules will almost certainly affect your case. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall lawsuit in court, and the "shared fault" rules that can affect your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Read on for the details.
A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
As in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall injury claim in Colorado is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases filed in the state’s civil court system. Specifically, Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-102 says that "tort actions", which include "actions for negligence," must be "commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues." In plain English, that means an injury claim arising from any kind of slip and fall accident must be filed against the at-fault property owner within two years.
The "clock" starts running on the date of the slip and fall accident -- unless the victim died as a result of the slip and fall, and their family wants to file a wrongful death claim. In that situation only, the statute of limitations deadline is still two years, but the "clock" starts on the date of the person’s death (which could be different from the date of the slip and fall itself).
(Note: The two-year deadline found at CRS section 13-80-102 also applies if your personal property was damaged in the slip and fall -- let’s say you broke an expensive watch, for example -- and you want to file a lawsuit asking for the repair or replacement of that property.)
A few things to keep in mind: First, whether your slip and fall lawsuit is for injury or property damage, the success or failure of the case will most likely turn on whether you can prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe and to prevent your accident. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall accident.
Second, if you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline set by Colorado's statute of limitations has already passed, the property owner (or other defendant) will almost surely ask the court to dismiss the case. If the court grants the dismissal, your case is over before it can even get started. (Note that in certain rare situations, the statute of limitations clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to an attorney for the details on these exceptions in Colorado).
You’re making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It’s a common tactic in every slip and fall case in every state, and Colorado is no exception. And if the property owner is successful in pinning some of the legal blame on you, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.
Now, onto the law. When the plaintiff in a personal injury case is found to share some amount of blame for the underlying accident, Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-21-111 says: "Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action by any person or his legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if such negligence was not as great as the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made."
In plain English, that means even if a jury finds you partly to blame for your slip and fall, you can still get compensation from the property owner, or whoever is responsible for the dangerous property condition. But any award you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault that’s determined to be yours. For example, if you’re deemed 25 percent at fault and your damages are $10,000, you’ll only receive $7,500.
But section 16-64-122 goes on to say that if the plaintiff’s share of fault "is equal to or greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, then, in such event, the court shall enter a judgment for the defendant." That means, if you’re found to be 50 percent or more responsible for causing the incident that led to your slip and fall, you lose the case, and you can’t recover any compensation at all from the property owner or anyone else.
(Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.)