If you've had your property damaged in Colorado, you might be considering bringing a civil lawsuit against the person you think is to blame for what happened. In that situation, one of the first things you need to do is understand Colorado's statute of limitations for property damage lawsuits, whether your potential case involves real property (damage to your house or your land) or personal property (including vehicle damage).
In case you’re not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that affects your right to file a lawsuit over any kind of legal dispute or harm suffered, by putting a limit on how much time can pass before you file the case in court. Every state has passed these laws, and the time limits vary depending on the subject matter of the lawsuit.
In the sections that follow, we'll explain the filing deadline in Colorado (including when the "clock" starts ticking), the consequences of missing the deadline, and rare circumstances that might serve to extend the deadline.
Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-102 sets a two-year deadline for any lawsuit seeking compensation for the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property, whether it’s real property or personal property.
It's important to note that a special deadline applies if the property damage results from a motor vehicle accident. In that situation, the statute of limitations deadline is three years., according to Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-101.
For example, a Colorado lawsuit for vandalism damage to a house must be filed within two years, while a vehicle damage lawsuit after a car accident needs to be brought to court within three years.
So, when does the "clock" start running for purposes of the Colorado statute of limitations for property damage lawsuits? According to Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-108, the "cause of action...shall be considered to accrue" (meaning the right right to file the lawsuit arises and the two- or three-year time period starts) "on the date both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known by the exercise of reasonable diligence."
In other words, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking as soon as the property owner actually becomes aware (or could reasonably be expected to have become aware) that someone else caused damage to his or her property.
If you try to file your Colorado property damage lawsuit after the relevant deadline has passed, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly make a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. And, except in rare cases where an exemption from the deadline applies (more on these exceptions in the next section), the court will grant the dismissal. If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So, even if you’re pretty sure your property damage case will settle, you still want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit if you need to.
In a Colorado property damage lawsuit -- and most other kinds of civil lawsuits, for that matter -- a number of situations could pause ("toll" in legalese) or extend the lawsuit filing deadline set by the statute of limitations.
For example, when the defendant is out of state at the time the property damage lawsuit "accrues" so that serving the defendant with the lawsuit is not possible, or if the defendant has taken steps to conceal him/herself within the state, the statute of limitations "clock" will not begin to run until the defendant enters the state or ceases the concealment.
Similarly, if the defendant leaves the state for any period of time after the cause of action "accrues" (and can't be served) the period of absence won't be counted as part of the statute of limitations period.
Both of these rules can be found at Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-118.
Other exceptions may also apply to extend the Colorado statute of limitations time limit, but they're too complex to cover in this article. To learn the details of exceptions to the statute of limitations, especially if the filing deadline is fast approaching -- talk with an experienced Colorado attorney.