An accident with a semi-truck or big rig tractor-trailer in Colorado can result in extremely serious injuries and high financial costs for injury victims.
If the truck driver or trucking company was:
- negligent in causing the accident, and
- the victim suffered injuries as a result, then
- the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit for money damages.
The legal doctrine of respondeat superior holds a company liable for the negligent acts of its employees. This means that even though it was a driver who caused the accident, the business can be sued as well.
This doctrine protects injured victims from not being able to recover all of their damages, and allows them to sue the company which has many more assets.
Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about trucking accident injuries in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered.
- 1. Can I file a personal injury lawsuit after a trucking accident in Colorado?
- 2. How do I prove who was at fault in a big rig accident?
- 3. What kinds of damages can I win in a trucking accident lawsuit?
- 4. When can I sue the truck driver’s employer in a personal injury lawsuit?
- 5. Can I file a lawsuit if the accident was partly my fault?
- 6. Can I file a lawsuit against the driver and trucking company for the death of my spouse?
1. Can I file a personal injury lawsuit after a trucking accident in Colorado?
A person injured as the result of a large truck driver’s negligence can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages caused by the collision.
Most trucking accident cases are based in Colorado negligence law. To prove a case for negligence, a person who is injured (the plaintiff) must prove:
- that the person being sued (the defendant) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- that the defendant breached that duty of care;
- that the defendant’s breach was the cause of the injury; and
- that the plaintiff sustained monetary damages from his or her injuries.1
If the plaintiff can show that the defendant was negligent in causing the trucking accident, the defendant will be responsible for the plaintiff’s damages.
2. How do I prove who was at fault in a big rig accident?
Proving who is at fault in an accident is the key to proving a personal injury case, and collecting damages related to a person’s injuries.
Fault is based on negligence, as discussed above. Fault can be proven in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:
- the driver was inattentive or distracted;
- the driver of the truck was intoxicated while driving (DUI);
- the driver was speeding;
- the big rig operator was watching Netflix or texting while driving;
- the semi driver did not look in his mirrors before changing lanes; or
- the driver of the tractor-trailer violated a Colorado law and caused the accident.
These are just a few of the different ways an injured person can prove a truck driver caused his accident. With the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, any theory which applies will be investigated and proven to the jury.
2.1 What is negligence per se in a trucking accident?
Negligence per se in Colorado occurs when a person violates a:
- safety law;
- regulation; or
in the state and is presumed to have been negligent.2
To prove his or her case, the plaintiff (the injured party) must prove that:
- the defendant violated a statute, law, or regulation;
- the statute in question was created to prevent the same type of injury suffered by the plaintiff;
- the victim is part of the “class” of people who were meant to be protected by the law; and
- the defendant’s violation of the law was the cause of the victim’s injuries.3
Example: Billy is a truck driver and he is tailgating Taylor because he wants to go faster than her (even though she is going the speed limit). Taylor presses on her brakes because there is stopped traffic ahead. Billy tries to stop, but can’t, because he was too close. He slams into the back of her car, leaving Taylor paralyzed from the neck down. Billy violated Colorado law by following too closely to Taylor and may be considered negligent per se.
3. What kinds of damages can I win in a trucking accident lawsuit?
An injured person could recover both economic and non-economic damages if he or she was injured as the result of a Colorado big rig accident.
Economic damages include:
These damages are more easily identifiable through documentary evidence and usually have a defined value.
Non-economic damages are those which are not typical “out-of-pocket” expenses. These losses are more subjective and include:
- pain and suffering;5
- emotional distress;
- emotional distress;
- loss of enjoyment of life; and
- loss of consortium.
4. When can I sue the truck driver’s employer in a personal injury lawsuit?
A trucking company will be held responsible for the acts of its employees when they are acting within the scope of their employment.
Respondeat Superior is a legal term that means that a person is responsible for the acts of his or her “agents” or employees. If a certain legal relationship exists between two or more parties:
- one party (person or entity) may be responsible for the actions or inactions of the other party
- that led to an injury to another person
- even when that person or business is not directly responsible.
There must be a legal reason why it is appropriate to hold a third party responsible for injuries caused by another.
4.1 When is the trucking company responsible for the negligent acts of its drivers?
A trucking company will be held responsible for its drivers’ actions when a “master and servant” relationship exists between them. This language is a little outdated but basically concerns the amount of control the employer has over the employee.
Colorado courts look to certain factors when determining if a “master and servant” relationship exists. These factors include whether or not the employer has:
- control over the employee;
- the right to hire and fire the employee;
- the right to assign certain hours and locations for work;
- the right to specify how work is performed; and
- a certain amount of direction over the employee’s duties.6
Overall, it comes down to how much control the employer has over the employee.7
4.2 What other ways can a trucking company be responsible for my injuries?
Other situations may also constitute negligence on the part of the trucking company, and allow the injured victim to sue the trucking company.
- the tractor-trailer was overloaded;
- the vehicle was overweight;
- the cargo was unbalanced;
- the truck was not properly serviced or maintained;
- the driver was not properly licensed to operate a truck;
- the driver was negligent hired or trained; or
- the company encouraged the driver to violate hour and sleep restrictions.
These common situations cause many accidents every year. When the trucking company is responsible for a victim’s injuries, it should be held responsible to the full extent of the law.
5. Can I file a lawsuit if the accident was partly my fault?
When an injured person is partially at fault for his or her injuries, Colorado’s modified comparative negligence laws apply.
Modified comparative negligence in Colorado is a:
- system of figuring out
- each parties’ degree of fault
- and the amount of damages the plaintiff may receive.8
The money damages awarded by the jury will be adjusted based on the plaintiff’s degree of fault in causing his or her own injuries.
- If the plaintiff is 50% or more responsible for his or her own injuries:
- the plaintiff is not allowed to recover anything in damages.
- If the plaintiff is 49% or less at fault for his or her injuries, the plaintiff can still recover:
- but the damage award will be adjusted down by the percentage the jury decides.
Example: Anakin is a truck driver and is speeding trying to make his deadline. He begins to change lanes to avoid slow traffic but does not check his mirrors. In the next lane is Rey, who just took her eyes off of the road momentarily to fiddle with her new radio. The jury finds Anakin 90% responsible for the accident he causes, but Rey is 10% responsible for taking her eyes off of the road. The jury awards Rey $100,000 in damages. The court will reduce the award by $10,000 because she was deemed 10% responsible for the accident.
6. Can I file a lawsuit against the driver and trucking company for the death of my spouse?
If your spouse or another close family member was killed in a trucking accident, you may be able to file a Colorado wrongful death claim.
Colorado’s wrongful death laws:
- let families recover damages
- after a loved one has died
- as the result of another person’s negligence. 9
This type of case results from an unnecessary death caused by the negligence or other wrongful act of another person.
Call us for help…
For questions about trucking accident lawsuits in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.
We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.
- Lopez v. Trujillo, 399 P.3d 750 (Ct. App. Div. 1 2016). (To prove a prima facie negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant owed a legal duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant’s breach caused that injury. citing Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 325 (Colo.2004). Of these elements, duty is the threshold element.)
- West’s Colorado Practice Series, 7 COPRAC 11:13.
- Barsch v. Hammond, 110 Colo. 441, 135 P.2d 519 (1943).
- 17 COPRAC 5.13 (Payment of Medical Bills).
- COPRAC 38:8 (Pain and Suffering–when compensable).
- West’s Colorado Practice Series, 7 COPRAC 14:3 (Employees, servants, and agents–Existence of master servant relationship).
- Id. (The issue of control is a crucial factor in determining whether there is a master-servant relationship).
- CRS 13-21-111 (Negligence cases–comparative negligence as measure of damages).
- CRS 13-21-202 (Action notwithstanding death).