In addition to having a solid case, getting your personal injury lawsuit filed in the proper venue is one of the most important parts of getting your claim started. Most people don’t realize that there are several different types of courts that handle personal injury suits. In addition to the type of court, the location of the court and its jurisdiction is also important. Explore the various kinds of courts where you may file your personal injury lawsuit and how to determine not only which court you need, but in what location you should file.

Types of Courts

The first thing to understand is the types of courts where you could file your lawsuit. These include small claims court, county court, and district court. The compensation you’re seeking will determine which of these venues is the most appropriate.

Small Claims Court

Small claims court is the first rung for civil action. A judge or magistrate may oversee this particular court, and there is no jury for a trial. Rather, the judge or magistrate hears the arguments and renders a verdict. The maximum compensation you can seek from small claims court in Colorado is $7,500.

County Court

The next level up is the county court, where you can have a bench trial or a jury trial. In the state of Colorado, the county court can hear cases with damage claims of $7,501 up to $15,000.

District Court

There is both a state district court and a federal district court. In most cases, you’ll file your personal injury case in the state district court, which does not have a maximum claim for compensation.

The federal district court typically hears very specific types of cases. If your personal injury case lists the United States as a part of the case, or if the plaintiff lives in a different state than all of the defendants and the damages sought are more than $75,000. You may list the United States as a defendant if a federal agency caused your injuries, including an employee of an agency in the course of conducting their duties.

Location of Court

Next, you must select the appropriate location or the court to hear your case. In most cases, you’ll file the lawsuit in the court with jurisdiction for where you live, where the plaintiff lives, or where the injury occurred.

Understand The Damages You’re Seeking

As you can see, the amount of damages you’re claiming has a lot of bearing on the appropriate venue. It’s important to understand the three types of compensation you may claim, and what Colorado law permits for each.

Economic Damages

The first kind of compensatory damages you’ll seek for a personal injury are economic damages. These damages cover the actual money lost as a result of your injury. The first thing you’ll probably consider is the extra bills you’ll accumulate for medical expenses. However, this also includes things like lost wages for having to miss work or if you lose your job as a result of the injury. Finally, it may also include property damage, such as to your vehicle or home, as a result of what caused your injury.

Colorado does not impose a cap for economic damages. That said, it’s critical that you keep documentation to support the level of economic damages you’re seeking.

Non-Economic Damages

These damages are more difficult to quantify in terms of monetary value. Most people may think of these as the pain and suffering that you hear about in movies. But it doesn’t end there, and also includes enduring emotional distress, an inability to do things you used to do before the injury, an inability to enjoy life in the ways you used to, and permanent changes from scarring, disfigurement, or dismemberment.

Colorado imposes a cap on non-economic damages. The Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-102 (2016) sets the limit for this claim. At the time this was initially implemented, the limit was $250,000 unless you can show clear evidence of a greater loss, in which case the judge can increase it up to $500,000. This code also allows increases for inflation, so for injuries sustained between January 1, 2022 and January 1, 2024, the limit is $613,760 and increasable up to $1,227,530.

Punitive Damages

Sometimes personal injuries aren’t just caused by negligence, but by a willful act intended to cause harm, in which case the court may award additional damages as a punishment for the actions. The idea is that there’s a difference between an accident that the defendant should have avoided versus an action that someone intentionally engaged in without regard to the safety of others.

The same Colorado Revised Statute § 13-21-102 (2016) also lays out the parameters for the court awarding punitive damages. It says that you must show the defendant acted with, “fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct.” It further goes on to define willful and wanton conduct as, “conduct purposefully committed the actor must have realized as dangerous, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the plaintiff.”

If the court finds that the person acted with willful and wanton conduct, they may award punitive damages up to the total of the compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are both the economic and non-economic damages we’ve already discussed. If you’re awarded $75,000 between the economic and non-economic damages, the court could award up to an additional $75,000 in punitive damages, bringing your total awarded damages up to $150,000. Your lawsuit will lay out how much you’re seeking in punitive damages.

What To Do Before Filing

Keep in mind that filing your lawsuit in the proper court is not the first step in the process. Before running down to the courthouse, you should show that you’ve made a reasonable attempt to settle the claim between you and the defendant party already. This is normally done through a demand letter that’s sent to the plaintiff, their insurer, and their attorney if they have one.

Keep in mind that not all cases require a demand letter. However, you may avoid the lengthy legal process if you have a strong case. You also show the judge that you’ve made a reasonable attempt to avoid clogging up the court system and handle things civilly and privately.

Let the personal injury experts at Matlin Injury Law take care of the details of your personal injury claim. Call to schedule your personal injury consultation before you run out of time to seek compensation.