Colorado Law Caps Personal Injury Claims

Gregory A. Hall

Colorado Caps on Personal Injury Claims
Various Colorado laws cap the amount of money a personal injury plaintiff can recover from a lawsuit.  A cap is a limit.  Different caps apply to wrongful death claims, medical malpractice claims, dog bite cases, and to cases brought against the State of Colorado or local governmental agency, municipality, city or or other governmental subdivision.
Caps typically apply to non-economic damages, what are called “pain and suffering” damages and include compensation for such things as humiliation, physical and mental pain, loss of enjoyment of life, grief, sorrow, loss of companionship, and emotional stress. Caps typically do not apply to economic damages, including compensation for lost wages or medical expenses.
Caps on Personal Injury Damages Not Resulting in Death
Non-economic damages are capped by Colorado law as follows:

  • For accidents before January 1, 1998: $250,000 which may be increased to $500,000 by the court upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence for the increase.
  • For accidents between January 1, 1998 and January 1, 2008: $366,250 which may be increased to $732,500 000 by the court upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence for the increase.
  • Accident after January 1, 2008: $468,010 which may be increased to $936,030 by the court upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence for the increase.

The amount of the cap can be doubled if the court finds justification to increase the award based upon clear and convincing evidence. C.R.S. 13-21-102.5.   A plaintiff seeking non-economic damages against multiple defendants can seek the capped amount from each defendant, unless the plaintiff is seeking non-economic damages under the Wrongful Death Act. (See discussion below.)
In most cases a plaintiff’s claim for economic damages and compensation for physical impairment or disfigurement are not capped. In cases where more than one wrong-doer is responsible, the non-economic damages cap applies to each award, rather than to each action; in this way, jury’s apportionment of fault percentages is retained while at the same time any award in excess of the statutory cap is limited.  General Electric Co. v. Niemet, 866 P.2d 1361, 1368 (Colo. 1994).
Caps on Damages for Wrongful Death Non-economic Loss
Colorado wrongful death claims are governed by the Wrongful Death Act, that includes six statutes, C.R.S. §§ 13-21-201, -202, -203, -203.5, 203.7 and -204. C.R.S. § 13-21-203 contains several limitations on the damages recoverable by a plaintiff in a wrongful death action. Colorado has capped non-economic damages recoverable in most wrongful death cases.
Besides caps on damages, another limitation is that the statute allows only one civil action for the wrongful death of any one decedent. In 2008, the Colorado Supreme Court held that a plaintiff can seek damages on a per claim basis only, and not a per defendant basis.  Lanahan v. Chi Psi Fraternity, 175 P.3d 97 (Colo. 2008). Accordingly, all claims against all defendants who are potentially liable for the decedent’s death must be brought in the same action.
In cases where the decedent dies with a spouse or heirs, the plaintiffs in a wrongful death action may recover economic damages, without any limitation, and non-economic damages for grief, sorrow and loss of companionship, currently subject to a limitation of $341,250. Economic damages are determined by the “net pecuniary loss” rule. If the deceased dies without a spouse or heirs, or without dependent parents, the total amount of damages, both economic and non-economic, recoverable under § 13-21-203(1), is currently limited to $341,250. However, C.R.S. § 13-21-203(1) contains an exception to these limitations if the decedent dies as the result of a “felonious killing”.
A felonious killing is one which rises to the level of first or second degree murder or manslaughter. A claim can be made even if there is no criminal conviction against the person liable, since the civil court may make an independent determination as to whether the conduct of the defendant was sufficiently egregious as to constitute murder or manslaughter. So a claim for felonious killing might be presented in a situation where an at-fault driver was highly intoxicated by alcohol or drugs and was engaging in reckless driving behavior. C.R.S. § 13-21-203 allows recovery for punitive damages if the plaintiff proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s conduct was willful and wanton.
Contact a Denver personal injury lawyer to discuss your case:
Gregory A. Hall
Law Office of Gregory A. Hall
3570 E. 12 Avenue, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80206
Ph. 303-320-0584

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