In Colorado, when you've been involved in a slip-and-fall, a car accident, or any other incident where someone else's conduct caused you harm, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these types of cases. (As background, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court.)
In this article, we'll cover the details of Colorado's personal injury statute of limitations, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the filing period might be extended.
The statute of limitations that will apply to your Colorado personal injury lawsuit depends on the nature of the accident or incident that harmed you.
For all personal injury cases except those arising from car accidents, the statute of limitations sets a two-year deadline to get the lawsuit filed in court. (Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-102(1)(a)). That includes cases driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after most slip and fall incidents and other mishaps) and intentional tort (such as civil lawsuits over assault).
So, if another person's careless or intentional act has caused you injury, and you want to ask a Colorado court for a civil remedy (damages) for your losses, you have two years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident.
If your lawsuit seeks compensation for "bodily injury or property damage arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle" -- if you're suing the at-fault driver after a car accident, in other words -- then the statute of limitations filing deadline is three years. (Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-101(1)(n).)
If the applicable two- or three-year deadline has passed, but you try to file your personal injury lawsuit anyway, the defendant will almost certainly ask the court to dismiss your case. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.
Colorado's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously a key consideration if you want to take your injury case to court by way of a formal lawsuit, but the statutory filing deadline is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. If you've allowed the filing deadline to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage. After all, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat when that same court is no longer an option for your dispute.
Colorado has identified a number of different scenarios that might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the filing deadline.
First, if the injured person is mentally incompetent, or under the age of 18 at the time of the underlying accident, and he or she has no legal representative, the statute of limitations "clock" may "toll" (stop running) until the period of legal disability is over (meaning the injured person turns 18 or has their mental competence restored). But keep in mind that if there is a legal representative who can file the lawsuit on behalf of the injured person, there will likely be no change to the filing deadline. (Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-81-103.)
Second, if at some point after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the potential defendant (the person responsible for the underlying accident) "departs from" or "conceals himself" within the state of Colorado, and can't be served with the lawsuit, the time of absence or concealment probably won't be counted as part of the two- or three-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-118.)
If you have questions about how the Colorado statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney.