Colorado Car Accident Law: Answers To FAQs
Colorado car accident law can be confusing. Knowing when an action must be filed, how insurance companies really investigate a claim, how Colorado courts deal with soft tissue injuries and whether or not punitive damages might be available are some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) we posed to Jim Chalat, a Colorado attorney with over 30 years of experience whose firm focuses its practice in personal injury law. Here are his answers:
Question: What is the statute of limitations to bring an auto accident lawsuit in Colorado?
Answer: Three years. You should never wait too long before contacting a lawyer, though. Witnesses tend to have dimmer recollections or disappear entirely [the more times passes]. That’s why we respond promptly to new client calls, typically making an attorney available when that first call comes in or providing a cell phone number for after-hours emergencies.
Question: Is there a time limitation for insurance companies or investigators taking statements or getting releases from people who are seeking medical treatment?
Answer: Yes, it’s 30 days. According to the [Colorado] statute, ‘If a person is injured as a result of an occurrence which might give rise to liability, and said person is a patient under the care of a practitioner of the healing arts, or is hospitalized, no person or agent of any person whose interest is adverse to the injured person shall, within 30 days after the occurrence, negotiate or attempt to negotiate a settlement, or obtain a release of liability, or take a statement from an injured patient for use in negotiating a statement, except as provided by the rules for civil procedure. Any such statement or release is void.’ We actually use that in our ski-accident cases as well.
There is also a companion section to this statute that says that it’s an ethical violation for lawyers to solicit for 30 days. You know, there are drummers or beaters, as we used to call them – those lawyers that hang around hospital emergency rooms looking for business. It’s like a scene out of a John Grisham novel. But the reputable lawyers strongly discourage that type of unethical conduct. We know it supports the nasty image that insurance companies promote about trial attorneys and ultimately, when presenting a case to the jury, it hurts the people with legitimate claims.
Question: How do Colorado courts deal with soft tissue injuries?
Answer: Unfortunately, they’re not very generous with them. There’s a whole species of automobile accidents that generate what we call MIST cases (minor impact soft tissue cases). These are cases in which accident victims claim that they have subjective symptoms of injury following a minor, low-speed accident. Quite honestly, the outcomes are adverse to the victim in most of those cases.
Juries just don’t believe that there can be significant injuries resulting from minor impact. Instead, they believe that subjective symptoms support significant awards. Our clientele are those folks who, unfortunately, have had catastrophic injuries or wrongful-death cases.
Those are the folks whom we can really benefit, whom we have helped in courts all across the state – from Ft. Morgan to Gunnison and up to Moffitt County. Based on our experience, these are the folks for whom we feel we can do the most good.
Question: Are punitive damages ever available in auto accident cases in Colorado?
Answer: They are, but they are very difficult to obtain. I would not expect that you’d be able to recover them unless there’s drinking involved or some other criminal activity. The people who commit punitive acts don’t generally have the money to pay for them and insurance does not pay punitive damages.
If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.