Car accidents are one of the most common causes of personal injuries that occur in the United States.
Thousands of people every year are hurt in car accidents in the State of Colorado. These injuries can cost victims tens of thousands of dollars, including:
- medical bills;
- car repair;
- lost wages;
- lost earning capacity;
- damage to property; and
- pain and suffering.
When Another Driver is at Fault
When another driver causes an accident which causes injuries, he or she should be held responsible for those injuries. Another driver is usually at fault through some form of negligence, but he or she may also be responsible due to intentional conduct as well.
Injured parties may still be able to recover against another driver even when he or she is partially responsible for the accident. Depending on the injured person's level of fault, he or she can still recover money damages for injuries suffered as a result of the accident.
Other Causes of Accidents
Some wrecks are caused not by other drivers' negligence, but rather other issues such as:
- defective car parts;
- hazardous road conditions;
- improper road maintenance; or
- driverless vehicle malfunctions.
When this is the case, the manufacturer of the vehicle may be responsible, or even the government when it was its responsibility to maintain the quality and safety of the roads.
You do not have to face this process alone. With the help of a Colorado car accident lawyer, you can confidently pursue a financial award for damages in your case.
Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about car accidents in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:
- 1. Who is responsible in a Colorado car accident?
- 2. What happens if both drivers are partially at fault for the accident?
- 3. What damages are available in a lawsuit for a motor vehicle wreck?
- 4. Can I get damages even when the other driver does not have insurance?
- 5. Can the family members sue if a family member was killed in a car accident?
- 6. What does my lawyer do to handle my car crash case?
- 7. Major Types of Colorado Car Accidents
- 7.1 Rear-End Collisions
- 7.2 Head-On Collisions
- 7.3 T-Bone Crashes
- 7.4 Bus Crashes
- 7.5 Truck Wrecks
- 7.6 Motorcycle Impacts
- 7.7 Bicycle Crashes
- 7.8 Accidents Involving Pedestrians
- 7.9 Accidents Involving Ride-Share Services
- 7.10 Accidents with Driverless Vehicles
- 7.11 Accidents with Drunk Drivers
- 7.12 Wrecks Caused by Dangerous Road Conditions
- 7.13 Crashes with Police Cars
To determine who is responsible in a Colorado vehicle collision, most cases are based on "negligence."
To prove negligence occurred, 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 injuries that can be quantified in monetary damages.1
A driver in Colorado must exercise the use of reasonable care when operating a vehicle. This means:
- being aware of pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles in and around the road;
- using reasonable care when driving;
- controlling the speed of the vehicle;
- staying in the lane or changing lanes properly; or
- leaving a reasonable distance between vehicles.
These are not the only duties placed on drivers, and violations of traffic laws are often considered a breach of the duty of care.2
Negligence can include careless driving, or not paying attention which may lead to:
- running a red light,
- texting while driving,
- other forms of distracted driving,
- drunk driving,3 or
- failing to yield the right of way.
Colorado uses a modified comparative fault rule when figuring out how damages are awarded and adjusted. Adjustments are made based on how much the plaintiff was at fault for his or her own injuries, if at all.4
If a plaintiff is 40% at fault for his injuries, the damages awarded to him by a jury will be reduced by 40%.
However, if a plaintiff is 50% or more at fault for his or her injuries, that plaintiff is not entitled to recover at all. The jury makes the decision about who was at fault and by what percentage.
Example: Ashley is driving down the highway at 15 mph over the posted speed limit in Denver when suddenly Toby, who was in the lane next to her, crosses into her lane without signaling. Toby's car hits Ashley's, causing Ashley to crash into a guard rail on the side of the road. The jury determines that Ashley is 10% at fault for speeding and Toby is 90% at fault for crashing into her. The jury awards Ashley $100,000. Her award will be reduced by 10%, down to $90,000.
If, instead, the jury found Ashley was 51% at fault, she would not be entitled to recover any damages, despite Toby's negligence.
The damages an injured person is entitled to are based on the injuries and losses suffered by the victim or victims.
Damages come in the form of economic damages and non-economic damages. Both are compensable under Colorado law, but proving non-economic damages can prove very challenging without experienced legal counsel by your side.
Economic damages are those that have a definite dollar value attached to them and are more easily proven, as they are more definable. These include, but are not limited to:
- car repair bills (covered by collision insurance in Colorado)
- medical bills;
- future medical bills;
- lost income;
- lost earning capacity; and
- rehabilitation costs.
Proof of these damages such as hospital bills and economist reports can be presented to the judge or jury so that the injured party can be awarded financial compensation.
Non-economic damages are those that do not have a definite dollar value, and are more subjective, such as:
- pain and suffering;
- loss of consortium;
- compensation for a loss of limb;
- compensation for scars or disfigurement;
- grief and sorrow; and
- punitive damages (in limited situations).
Non-economic damages are often limited by certain "caps" depending on the situation, and the severity of the injuries.
Collecting from an uninsured driver can be challenging, but can be accomplished.
If the injured driver does have car insurance, his or her policy may have what is called "underinsured motorist coverage" which provides for a certain amount of damages in the event another driver has no insurance or an insufficient amount to cover the injured party's damages.
Insurance companies can be devious when it comes to attempting to avoid payment, even of an obviously valid claim. With the right lawyer by your side, you are better protected from this type of behavior by companies.
There are other collection methods as well, including:
- garnishment of wages;
- attachment of a lien to the responsible party's property; and
- payment agreements.
If a person was killed as the result of another person's negligence in a vehicle wreck, certain family members may sue the responsible party for damages under Colorado's wrongful death law.5
Only certain individuals are allowed to sue for wrongful death. Within the first year after the person's death:
- only the spouse or the heirs with the spouse's consent;
- if there is no spouse, the heirs of the deceased (children); or
- the designated beneficiary.6
The surviving spouse -- if any -- has the primary power to bring suit within the first year. The spouse can also elect to allow the heirs or the beneficiary to join the lawsuit within that first year but does not have to do so.
Within the second year after the person's death, the following may file:
- the spouse of the deceased;
- the heirs of the deceased (children); or
- the designated beneficiary.7
Damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit can include:
- Burial expenses,
- Funeral expenses,
- Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned, and
- Compensation to the family for the loss of companionship and support.
Wrongful death claims can help a family move forward after the financial hardships caused by a loved one's death.
Your attorney's primary purpose in handling your lawsuit is to advocate for the victim of the accident and his or her family members. The lawyer handles the:
- court and legal process;
- insurance paperwork and filings;
- keeping the client informed; and
- negotiating on the client's behalf and at his or her direction.
Some people think that they don't need a lawyer after a wreck, but the legal process to obtain money damages can be extremely complicated. Some insurance companies pounce on unrepresented victims, and immediately offer a settlement that is well below what you need to be compensated for your injuries.
6.1 Does the attorney help me investigate my case?
After a car accident, law enforcement usually arrives on the scene to make an investigation into the case. The report created by the investigation usually provides:
- sketching out the scene;
- obtaining statements from the parties to the accident;
- obtaining witness statements from anyone who saw what happened.
These brief investigations usually do not provide a clear picture of what happened or what caused the accident. Even when correct, these reports do not go far enough to prove a personal injury case.
An attorney with years of experience in car accident litigation can:
- review the police report;
- review the insurance company report and policies;
- interview or depose eyewitnesses to the accident;
- obtain video surveillance of the scene;
- review records of any previous issues at that location in the past;
- look into the other driver's history;
- analyze medical records; and
- hire and work with experts to review records and recreate the accident.
6.2 What is a demand letter?
A demand letter is issued by an attorney to the responsible party, and his or her insurance company. The letter usually includes information, such as:
- the parties to the accident;
- the facts about what happened;
- damage to property and medical injuries involved;
- financial losses caused by the wreck; and
- a demand for compensation from the responsible party and his or her insurance company.
This letter is usually the first step in beginning to negotiate with the insurance adjuster.
6.3 Will my attorney negotiate with the other driver's insurance company?
The attorney is able to negotiate with the other driver's insurance company in an attempt to settle the case. A proper settlement properly compensates the injured person for his or her injuries, while saving the cost and uncertainty of a trial.
Insurance companies are crafty and are well-practiced at working with unrepresented people to underpay on claims. An experienced car accident lawyer knows the insurance company playbook and is in the best position to protect the injured person's rights.
Your lawyer's job is to negotiate on your behalf, but ultimately the decision is up to you to decide whether or not to accept a settlement. Your attorney will:
- keep you updated during the negotiation process;
- educate you about your options; and
- help you decide what is right for you and your family.
6.4 What if the insurance company will not negotiate?
If the insurance company refuses to pay what you deserve, your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit in Colorado civil court.
The filing of a case often scares insurance companies into doing the right thing, and the closer things get to trial the more likely a settlement to your benefit will occur.
There are many different kinds of vehicle crashes in Colorado. The type of collision may help indicate:
- the types of injuries;
- who is at fault;
- who is responsible for damages;
- the proof needed for the case; and
- what expert witnesses are needed, if any.
Rear-end collisions are extremely common and often cause serious neck and back injuries, including whiplash. Most of the time, the rear driver is at fault, but this must still be proven to be successful in a personal injury claim.
Head on collisions can be extremely serious, often resulting in severe damage or death. They are often caused by:
- a driver crossing the center line;
- distracted driving;
- intoxicated drivers; and
- failures to yield.
The classic "T-bone" crash is usually caused by bad driving, such as when a person runs a traffic light or stop sign at an intersection. A direct hit to the side of a vehicle can cause injury to the driver and passengers of a vehicle.
Buses are big and can cause incredible damage. Collisions with city buses, school buses, or others can be caused by the negligence of the driver or a part defect in the bus. In any case, you deserve compensation for your injuries.
Serious injuries result with crashes with trucks such as semis or tractor-trailers. In these types of cases, the injured driver may be able to sue both the truck driver and the company the truck driver worked for. This may also be a situation in which a lawsuit for negligent entrustment may be filed.
Motorcycle riders do not have much protection from collisions with other vehicles. As a result, the injuries can be life-changing and extremely costly. Whoever is responsible for those costs should be held responsible.
When a car crashes into a bicyclist, there is little the bicyclist can do to avoid extreme injury. Injured cyclists have the right to sue responsible parties, including other drivers, companies, or even cities.
Pedestrians are uniquely vulnerable to being harmed by a car accident. Without any barriers to protect them, pedestrians are often severely injured or killed as part of these incidents.
Drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft can cause injuries to passengers or other drivers. In these cases, insurance coverage can be complicated by the driver's commercial status.
As driverless vehicles inevitably become more common on the road, the injuries they cause can be held against the company who made them or the "driver" of the car, depending on the circumstances. These lawsuits may involve Colorado's product liability laws.
Drunk drivers are extremely dangerous, and cause many accidents every year.8 When a drunk driver causes injury, that driver should be held financially responsible.
Dangerous road conditions are often the cause of an accident. In some cases, the government may be responsible for failing to fix issues with the road, or it could be weather-related.
In some cases, a police car or other emergency first responder is responsible for causing an accident. Often, liability will depend on whether:
- the driver was responding to an emergency;
- the lights and sirens were on; and
- the driver was driving negligently at the time of the accident.
Call us for help...
For questions about car accidents in personal injury cases or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. For cases in California or Nevada, please see our pages on car accident lawyers in California and car accident lawyers in Las Vegas Nevada.
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.)
- Colorado Supreme Court Committee on Civil Jury Instructions. 9:14 Negligence Per Se--Violation of Statute or Ordinance.
- CRS 42-4-1301. (Driving under the influence - driving while impaired - driving with excessive alcoholic content - definitions - penalties.)
- CRS 13-21-111 (Negligence cases--comparative negligence as measure of damages).
- CRS 13-21-202 (Action notwithstanding death).
- CRS 13-21-201(1)(a) (Damages for death).
- CRS 13-21-201(1)(b).
- Sobering Facts: Drunk Driving in Colorado.