Colorado Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn about Colorado's personal injury laws, including how long you have to sue, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, damage limits in personal injury cases, and much more.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

You were injured in Colorado and you're thinking about filing a personal injury (PI) lawsuit. Maybe you were hurt by a careless driver, or you slipped and fell on someone's dangerous property. Before you file suit, find out about the Colorado laws and court rules that will control your case.

We start with where and how you file a Colorado personal injury lawsuit. We'll also explain how long you have to file under Colorado's lawsuit filing deadlines. From there, we discuss what happens to your case if you're partly to blame for your injuries. Colorado limits the damages you can collect in some cases, so we'll close with a review of these "damage caps."

Where and How to File a Colorado Personal Injury Lawsuit

Your personal injury lawsuit is a type of civil (non-criminal) case. It will be controlled by Colorado law and by court rules called the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be complicated and difficult to understand. You're probably not familiar with them, and the time to learn isn't while you're trying to handle your own case. Think about hiring a Colorado attorney to prepare, file, and handle your lawsuit.

Where to File Your Case

The Colorado court that's authorized to decide most kinds of cases—including most personal injury cases—is called the District Court. Colorado is divided into 22 judicial districts, each covering one or more counties. You can file your lawsuit in the county where:

  • you live
  • the defendant lives, or
  • the accident or event that caused your injury happened.

(Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 98(c) (2024).)

Colorado has forms and instructions to help you get your District Court case started. In some PI cases, simplified procedures will streamline the process and help to move cases along more efficiently. (See Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 16.1 (2024).)

If your damages—the compensation you're asking the court to award you—are less than $25,000, you should file your lawsuit in County Court instead of District Court. There are also forms and instructions available to help you start your County Court case.

How to File

You can start your personal injury lawsuit in two ways:

  • file your complaint with the court, or
  • serve a copy of your complaint, together with a summons (an order to appear in court and defend the case), on the defendant (the party you're suing). (Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 3(a) (2024).)

When you begin your lawsuit by serving the defendant with your complaint and a summons, you must file your complaint in court within 14 days. If you don't, your case can be dismissed.

You serve the defendant by delivering a copy of the complaint and summons as specified in the rules. (See Colo. R. Civ. Proc. 4(d)-(h) (2024).) If you don't serve a defendant within 63 days after filing your complaint, the court can dismiss that defendant from the case.

Colorado's Statutes of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

Colorado, like every state, has deadlines—called "statutes of limitations"—that limit your time to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. We start with the general rule in most PI cases, then we'll look at some special rules that apply in certain cases and situations.

Colorado's General Rule: Two Years From the Date of Injury

Colorado's general rule is that lawsuits involving injuries caused by negligence (carelessness) must be filed in court within two years. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(1) (2024).) Most PI cases are based on claims of negligence. This two-year limitation period specifically applies to:

  • most lawsuits for wrongful death, and
  • cases against the government—state or local—or a government employee.

(Learn more about Colorado wrongful death lawsuits.)

For most PI cases, the two-year clock starts to run on the date you're injured. In the case of a wrongful death, the time to file typically runs from the date of death.

Colorado's "Discovery Rule"

You might not know right away that you've been injured. Should that happen, ask your lawyer if Colorado's "discovery rule" might apply to your case. Under the discovery rule, the filing deadline clock doesn't start running on the date you're injured. Instead, it starts on the earlier of the date that you:

  • discover your injury and what caused it, or
  • should have discovered your injury and what caused it, had you been reasonably diligent.

(See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-108(1) (2024).)

Special Statutes of Limitations for Certain Cases

Under Colorado law, some kinds of PI claims have their own statute of limitations. Here are a few examples.

Motor vehicle accidents. Most motor vehicle accident lawsuits must be filed within three years. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-101(1)(n) (2024).) Colorado's discovery rule, discussed above, controls the date the three-year deadline starts running. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-108(12) (2024).) A wrongful death case against a person who commits vehicular homicide and flees the scene has a four-year limitation period. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(2) (2024).)

Medical malpractice. When you're hurt by a negligent hospital, doctor, or other health care provider, typically you've got two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5(1) (2024).) The discovery rule (see above) applies.

But in a medical malpractice case, Colorado puts a deadline on the time you have to discover your injury. This deadline—called a "statute of repose"—is three years from the date of the malpractice. This means that your lawsuit is time barred after three years from the date the malpractice happens, even if you didn't discover your injury before the deadline expired.

The three-year statute of repose doesn't apply in some circumstances, and there's a special deadline when a child younger than six years old is injured by medical malpractice. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102.5(3) (2024).)

(Learn more about Colorado's medical malpractice laws, including the statute of limitations.)

Intentional injuries. When you're injured by an intentional tort (misconduct that's intentional, not negligent) you have one year to sue. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-103(a) (2024).) This one-year limitation covers lawsuits for:

Dangerous products. A lawsuit against a manufacturer or seller of a dangerous product must, as a general rule, be filed within two years from the date of your injury. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-106(1) (2024).)

Ski area operators. The deadline to sue a ski area operator (or an employee of a ski area operator) is two years from the date you were hurt. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-111 (2024).)

Can Colorado's Statute of Limitations Be Extended?

In some situations, Colorado extends the filing deadline, allowing you more time to sue. Here are a couple of examples.

Legally disabled persons. A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own affairs or take certain actions—like file a lawsuit—without the help of a parent, guardian, or court. Under Colorado law, when a legally disabled person is injured, they might get extra time to file a lawsuit. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-81-103(1) (2024).) Legally disabled persons include:

  • minors (younger than 18 years old)
  • those who have been found mentally "incompetent," and
  • others who are legally disabled and without a representative to act for them.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-81-101(3) (2024).)

Defendant leaves Colorado or goes into hiding. When the defendant leaves Colorado or goes into hiding and can't be served with your lawsuit, the statute of limitations doesn't run while they're absent or in hiding. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-118 (2024).)

Notice Required for Lawsuits Against the Government

If you want to sue the Colorado government—state or local—or a government employee, you first have to satisfy a special notice requirement. Specifically, within 182 days after discovering your injury, you must file a written notice that includes:

  • your name and address and, if you've got an attorney, your attorney's name and address
  • a statement of the facts, including "the date, time, place, and circumstances of the act, omission, or event complained of"
  • if you know it, the name and address of any public employee who was involved
  • a concise statement of your injuries, and
  • the amount of damages (compensation) you're seeking.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-10-109(1)-(2) (2024).)

File your notice with the Colorado Attorney General when your case is against the state or a state employee. For claims against a local government or its employee, you must send your notice to the governing body or its attorney. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-10-109(3) (2024).)

If you don't give notice as required, you can't sue.

When You're Partly Responsible for Your Injuries

To collect damages in most PI cases, you need to show that the defendant was negligent. Typically, the defendant will answer that you were negligent, too, and that your negligence should reduce or eliminate your damages. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence." Colorado law has adopted a version of this defense.

Here's how it works.

Colorado Is a "Modified Comparative Negligence" State

Colorado has adopted a "modified comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, if you're less than 50% to blame for your injuries, you can still collect some damages. The damages you get are reduced by your percentage share of the total negligence. But if you're found to be 50% or more at fault, you collect nothing. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-111(1) (2024).)

Example: Colorado Modified Comparative Negligence

Suppose you're shopping in a grocery store. Because your attention is focused on the store shelves, you don't see a broken floor tile in the aisle. You trip and fall on the tile, breaking your ankle.

You sue the grocery store. The store claims that you were negligent too, because you didn't watch where you were going. After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $50,000 and decides that the store was 75% to blame. Because you didn't watch where you were going, jurors assign the remaining 25% of the negligence to you. Under Colorado's comparative negligence rule, because you were 25% to blame, you can recover 75% of your damages: $50,000 x 75% = $37,500.

What's the outcome if the jury finds you were 50% (or more) to blame? Under Colorado's modified comparative negligence rule, you collect zero damages.

Does Colorado Have Limits on Personal Injury Damages?

Yes, Colorado has enacted damage limits (also called "caps") in several kinds of cases. Here are some (but not all) of them:

  • caps on damages in all PI cases
  • caps on damages in medical malpractice cases
  • caps on damages against ski area operators, and
  • caps on punitive damages.

Caps in All Personal Injury Cases

In the typical personal injury case, you'll collect what the law calls "compensatory damages." As the name suggests, these damages compensate you for your losses when you're harmed by someone else's misconduct. Compensatory damages are grouped into two categories.

"Economic damages" are meant to make you whole for your out-of-pocket losses. This category includes things like medical bills, lost wages, and other amounts you pay (or your insurance pays) because of your injuries. "Noneconomic damages" compensate you for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

For PI cases arising between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2023, noneconomic damages are capped at $642,180 in all Colorado PI cases except those for medical malpractice. If you can convince the judge that this cap is unfair, you can collect up to $1,284,370 in noneconomic damages. For non-malpractice cases arising between January 1, 2024 and December 31, 2025, the limits are $729,790 and—on a showing of unfairness—$1,459,600. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102.5(3)(a) (2024), as adjusted for inflation.)

Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases

In a Colorado medical malpractice case, total damages (both economic and noneconomic) are capped at $1,000,000 per injured person. Of this total amount, no more than $300,000 can be for noneconomic damages. If you can convince the judge that the $1,000,000 cap is unfair, the judge can increase the economic damages you're allowed to collect. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-64-302(1)(b)-(c) (2024).)

Caps in Cases Against Ski Area Operators

When you sue a Colorado ski area operator, in most cases your total damages will be capped at $1,000,000. No more than $250,000 of this total can be for noneconomic damages. If you can show that the total damage cap is unfair, the judge can allow you to collect in excess of the cap for medical bills and lost wages. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 33-44-113 (2024).)

Caps on Exemplary (Punitive) Damages

In cases where exemplary or punitive damages are allowed, they're generally capped at an amount equal to the compensatory damages you're awarded. The court can increase a punitive damage award, but the upper limit is three times your compensatory damages. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102 (2024).) Because punitive damages are rarely awarded in PI cases, this cap isn't likely to impact your case.

Get Help With Your Colorado Personal Injury Case

We've covered some of the basic Colorado personal injury laws. If you've been injured and want to bring a claim or file a lawsuit, there's much more you need to know. An experienced Colorado personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process and offers the best chance for a successful outcome to your case.

When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find an attorney who's right for your you.

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