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What is the duty of care standard under Colorado law?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

In Colorado personal injury law, people have the duty to behave as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances. People who breach this "duty of care" are vulnerable to negligence lawsuits in Colorado.

Duty of care in Colorado

"Duty of care" is the key element in Colorado "negligence" lawsuits. In order to prevail in a negligence lawsuit against someone, the plaintiff would need to prove the following four elements:

  1. the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  2. the defendant breached that duty;
  3. the defendant's breach was the cause of the defendant's injury; and
  4. the plaintiff sustained monetary damages from his or her injuries

If and when a duty exists depends on the situation of the case and the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant. Just some examples of common "duties of care" include:

  • a dog owner's duty to other people to keep his or her dog from attacking or biting them
  • a driver's duty to be careful and not endanger anyone else's life
  • a gun owner's duty to be safe with the gun
  • a parent's duty to a child
  • a doctor's duty to a patient
  • a shop owner's duty to keep the premises safe

Specifically, a jury would consider the following factors when determining whether a duty of care exists:

  • the risk inherent in the defendant's conduct;
  • the foreseeability and likelihood of the plaintiff getting injured;
  • the importance of guarding against the harm that occurred; and
  • the consequences of placing the burden a "duty of care" on the defendant

Ultimately, a jury would decide whether a defendant breached his or duty of care by considering whether a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would have acted in the same way as the plaintiff in the same circumstances. This way, the defendant is not held to impossible standards requiring 20/20 hindsight. Rather, the defendant is judged the same way as any ordinary person would in the same situation.

Proving negligence in Colorado

Plaintiffs in negligence cases have the burden to show "by a preponderance of the evidence" that the defendant committed negligence. This means that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent. This burden of proof is far lower than the criminal standard, which is "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The best evidence to prove that a defendant's breach of duty of care caused injuries turns on the circumstances of the case. Common evidence in negligence cases include:

  • video (such as from surveillance cameras or smartphones)
  • recorded and written communications (emails, voicemails, texts, recorded phone calls)
  • eyewitness accounts
  • relevant documents
  • photographs of injuries and/or property damage
  • expert witness testimony (such as by doctors or accident reconstruction experts)
  • medical records (if the negligence caused physical injury or illness)
  • the plaintiff's medical bills (and projected future costs)
  • proof of lost wages (while the plaintiff was too injured to work)
  • projected lost future wages (if the plaintiff will be too injured to work)

When proving its case, the plaintiff would need to show the jury that his or her injuries would not have occurred "but for" the defendant's breach of duty of care. Even if there were other causes that contributed to the plaintiff's injury, the defendant can still be liable as long as the defendant's actions were a "substantial factor" in causing the injury. (Learn more about modified comparative negligence in Colorado.)

Legal References:

HealthONE v. Rodriguez, 50 P.3d 879 (2002).("In order to establish a prima facie case for negligence, a plaintiff must show a legal duty of care on the defendant's part, breach of that duty, injury to the plaintiff, and causation, i.e., that the defendant's breach caused the plaintiff's injury...A negligence claim will fail if it is predicated on circumstances for which the law imposes no duty of care upon the defendant. Thus, the initial question in any negligence action is whether the defendant owed a legal duty to protect the plaintiff against injury.")

C.R.S. 13-21-111 (Negligence cases--comparative negligence as measure of damages).

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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