Is There a Cap on Damages for Personal Injury in Colorado?
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident you may be entitled to compensation for the harm you have suffered. There are several categories of damages you may be able to recover, even if you were partially at fault in the accident, including economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost income), non-economic damages (for your “pain and suffering”) and, in rare cases involving egregious conduct, punitive damages. As Denver personal injury lawyers, we are experienced in helping our clients to maximize their recovery from personal injury. While Colorado places no cap on the economic damages recoverable for personal injury, there are limits on the amounts recoverable for pain and suffering and punitive damages.
Recoverable Economic Damages
There are several components of economic damages that may be recovered for personal injury, including medical costs, past, and future, and lost earnings, past and future. There is no cap in Colorado on the amount of economic damages a plaintiff may recover in a personal injury action.
Recoverable Noneconomic Damages
Colorado law allows recovery for “pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life. However, there is a limit on the amount recoverable for non-economic damages. Colorado caps noneconomic loss at $250,000 (plus inflation), although the court can increase the award to no more than $500,000 if it “finds justification by clear and convincing evidence.” In medical malpractice cases, the cap on non-economic damages is $300,000, with a $1 million cap on total damages, with some exceptions (i.e., lifetime incurred medical expenses and loss of future wages).
There is no cap on pain and suffering damages for plaintiffs who have suffered a permanent physical impairment.
Punitive damages, referred to in Colorado law as “exemplary damages,” are not intended to compensate the plaintiff but to punish the defendants for egregious or reckless conduct, and to deter the wrongdoer and others from similar outrageous conduct in the future. Colorado requires evidence that the defendant acted “needlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the plaintiff.” Colorado law places a cap on the amount of exemplary damages recoverable. With limited exceptions, the award cannot exceed the amount awarded for “actual damages.” That is, if a plaintiff is awarded $1000 for compensatory damages, she can recover up to an additional $1000 for exemplary damages.
Colorado has what is referred to as a “comparative negligence” law, meaning that if you are found to be more than 50% at fault, you are not entitled to recover at all If you are 50% or less at fault, you are entitled to a recovery, but any award of damages will be diminished by the percentage of negligence attributed to you.