One of the most difficult things to calculate following a motor vehicle crash is the amount of money that it will take to balance the harms and losses caused by the crash. In Colorado, the person that caused the crash is responsible for all damages caused by her negligence. Typically, these damages come in two categories: Property Damage, and Personal Injury. This article will discuss Personal Injury damages and how they are calculated.
For most cases, damages can be neatly split into two categories: Economic and Non-Economic. These terms attempt to split items that can be easily quantified, such as medical bills, lost wages, or the cost of future medical care, and those items that cannot easily be calculated, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, or impairment of your ability to do things (personal, work, or recreational) as you were able before the accident.
Economic losses are unlimited in Colorado because in theory, those losses are actual or future losses that can be calculated. On the other hand, non-economic losses are capped by law in Colorado. These amounts were set in 1998 at $250,000 but with annual adjustments for inflation, are now at $613,760. The law has provisions for doubling these amounts for very egregious conduct, but this requires a court order and rarely happens.
Most of the time, the largest factor limiting recovery in a car crash is the lack of, or limited amount of coverage available under the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. In Colorado, minimal liability limits have been set at $25,000 for many years. Generally expressed as 25/50, this means that no one person could recover more than $25,000 and the total amount for all injured parties cannot exceed $50,000. Other coverage limits are available, but statistics show that the majority of drivers in Colorado carry the smallest amount required.
In cases where the damages exceed the amount of coverage, people frequently assume they can just go directly against the at-fault party for the amounts in excess of the insurance policy limits. However, in most cases, you will be required to sign a release of the at-fault driver before the insurance company will pay out their limits. Thus, the only practicable way to recover additional damages is to carry Uninsured and/or Underinsurance coverage on your insurance policy. This coverage stacks on top of the available coverage carried by the at-fault driver, and can many times be the primary source of recovery when people suffer large damages at the hands of poorly insured drivers.
Of importance when considering uninsured coverage (called UM/UIM) is the fact that using this coverage, even though it is technically a claim against your own insurance company, cannot be used by your carrier to raise your rates. Since by definition you cannot use UM/UIM coverage unless you are not at fault, the insurance companies can’t penalize you with higher rates.
Finally, we sometimes hear about large, sometimes crazy-high verdicts called Punitive Damages. Punitive damages are damages that are simply meant to punish bad behavior rather than to cover specific categories of other damages. Punitive damages are available in cases where the defendant’s conduct was intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent, require permission of the court to add such a claim, and are never covered by insurance. Therefore, while technically available, they are rarely awarded by Colorado juries.
If you have been injured in a crash in Colorado, you should strongly consider having a personal injury attorney on your side. Contact Fuller Law for a free, no obligation case review to learn the types of damages that may be applicable to your case and how the Fuller Law Firm can maximize your recovery.