Personal injury in the Colorado judicial system means that you’ve sustained an injury from no fault of your own. When this happens, the courts make a way to hold the at-fault party responsible for the impact on your life. This is where the process for personal injury claims comes into play.

But there are a lot of questions about whether you need to hire an attorney to file the claim, or whether you can file it on your own. Discover what you need to know about the process, whether you need a lawyer, and some of what you should consider as you explore your options.

Understanding the Colorado Judicial System

There is no requirement for you to retain professional counsel, otherwise known as an attorney or lawyer, for any kind of lawsuit in Colorado. Rather, you’re permitted to represent yourself in court if that is your desire, which includes filing a personal injury claim.

The process doesn’t actually start with filing a claim in court, but rather a demand letter sent to the responsible party and their insurer. This lays out what happened, why the person is responsible, and the damages you’re seeking.

If the issue is not settled with this letter, then it moves on to a claim filed with the court system., but you have to make sure to file it in the proper court. The amount you’re seeking in damages determines which court is appropriate, with options being small claims court, county court, and circuit court.

The complaint filing is very similar to the demand letter, laying out what happened, the facts supporting why they’re responsible, and the compensation you’re seeking. Not only does this go to the court, but it’s also served to the defendant and their insurer or legal representative. Once they receive it, they have an opportunity to respond to the allegations, and make motions to the court or seek a settlement.

Depending on the details of the claim, such as the amount of compensation requested, the court may offer a chance for discovery. This is the process through which both you and the defendant investigate all the details of the case to present to the court.

Next, your claim will either settle out of court or go to a trial. Industry estimates suggest that parties settle up to 95% of personal injury claims outside of court. The outcomes include a direct settlement, mediation, and arbitration. The other 5% go to trial, which is the most expensive and time-consuming way to handle a personal injury claim.

You Have a Limited Amount of Time

Keep in mind that you do not have an unlimited amount of time to file your personal injury claim. The Colorado Statute of Limitations regulates how long you have to file a claim, which you can find in the 2016 Colorado Revised Statutes §13-80-102. This law generally gives the claimant two years from the date of injury to file the claim with the courts. Keep in mind that you must have already completed the out-of-court actions, such as the demand letter, and still leave time to file a suit before the 2-year limit.

What Qualifies For a Personal Injury Claim?

The first thing you have to establish is that someone else’s negligence caused the injury. What the court looks for is whether the party you’re making the claim against could have reasonably avoided the injury. For instance, if you’re injured in a multi-vehicle accident, could the driver you’re filing the claim against have reasonably avoided the accident? If they did not initiate the collision, the court may deem they are ultimately not responsible.

Colorado also has what’s known as a modified comparative fault, which looks at situations where you may have some liability in the injury. If the court determines you’re more than 50% liable, then you cannot seek compensation. If you’re less than 50% at fault, then the court may reduce the damages you’re seeking by the proportion of your fault.

When considering what qualifies for a personal injury claim, keep in mind that not all injuries are in the form of permanent physical injuries. The litmus test is whether the injury has altered how you experience life and its course. This can include obvious things like permanent disability, dismemberment, and death. But it can also include things like significant emotional trauma, and an inability to continue in your current career path.

Different Types of Compensation

When it comes to determining the compensation you’re seeking, it’s important to understand the various types of compensation and their limits. Colorado does have compensatory limits, so you’ll need to understand those limits and support why you’re seeking the amounts in the claim. You can find these in Colorado Statutes §13-21-102.5.

Economic Damages

These are the real losses you may experience resulting from your injuries. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and legal expenses. There is currently no cap on the amount of economic damages you can claim. Be sure to keep copies of all bills and invoices to help support your claim for economic losses.

Non-Economic Damages

These are the repercussions of your injury that are harder to quantify a specific loss amount. Some refer to non-economic damages as the “pain and suffering” part of the claim. However, it can also include loss of enjoyment of life, non-economic implications of physical impairment or disfigurement, emotional distress, and more. For injuries sustained between January 1, 2022 and before January 1, 2024, the non-economic damages cap is $613,760, with the ability of the judge to increase the amount to $1,227,530 upon clear and convincing evidence of the extent of damages.

Punitive Damages

You may seek punitive damages if you can demonstrate the responsible party displayed, “a willful, wanton, malicious, and reckless regard for the safety of others.” In the case of punitive damages, the court cannot award more than the compensatory damages. If the court awards you a total of $250,000 in economic and non-economic damages, they can award up to that $250,000 additional in punitive damages. This would bring your total reward to $500,000.

Let the personal injury experts at Matlin Injury Law help you navigate the complicated legal system. Call to schedule your initial consultation with one of the expert personal injury attorneys.