In the aftermath of an accident caused by another’s negligence, whether it’s a car accident or a slip and fall, understanding Colorado’s comparative fault law becomes crucial. This legal doctrine can significantly influence the outcome of your personal injury claim, potentially diminishing your financial award if your own contribution to the incident is established. Insurance companies and defense attorneys use this negligence defense to reduce settlement offers and reduce jury verdicts at trial. Understanding the doctrine of comparative fault under Colorado law, how it may apply to your case and how to defend against it, are all critical parts of a successful personal injury case.
If you sustained injuries in an accident in Colorado, contact the personal injury lawyers at Front Range Injury Attorneys today to schedule your free consultation. Our experienced legal team are knowledgeable and zealous advocates for our clients and their cases. We treat our clients as people, not case files. Learn more about how we can help you pursue compensation for your injuries and damages. Contact our Denver law firm to learn more.
What is comparative fault?
Also referred to as comparative negligence, this legal principle acts as a determinant in reducing the financial compensation available to an injured victim (plaintiff) pursuing a personal injury claim. The reduction occurs by assigning a percentage of fault to the victim. If the plaintiff is deemed to have contributed to their injuries, the recoverable financial amount is diminished proportionally. Essentially, the defendant or the at-fault party pays less compensation as they aren’t held entirely responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.
In most personal injury cases, the injured person pursues compensation for injuries caused by negligence. Legal negligence requires proving four elements:
- The defendant had a duty of care towards you.
- Defendant breached that duty of care.
- The breach caused injury or harm to you.
- The injury or harm caused is among the damages compensable under Colorado law.
Comparative fault is a legal defense to a negligence claim by the injured person. Comparative fault says the injured person had a duty of care that they breached that partially caused their own injuries or damages. The plaintiff’s contribution to their own damages reduces the amount of harm inflicted by the defendant and as a result, the defendant is not liable for 100% of the damages incurred. Comparative fault allows the defendant to admit partial liability for their own negligent acts without owing the plaintiff compensation for the plaintiff’s own negligent acts.
Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence
While comparative negligence allows partial financial recovery even if the plaintiff contributed to the accident, contributory negligence is more stringent. It dictates that any contribution by the plaintiff, even if minimal, renders them ineligible for financial recovery. Most states, including Colorado, have opted for plaintiff-friendly comparative negligence rules over contributory negligence laws.
Historically, defendants could defend personal injury and other negligence claims with a legal defense called contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a set of legal arguments that completely barred the plaintiff from recovering compensation based upon the plaintiff’s actions, even if the defendant was negligent. Depending upon the jurisdiction, defendants could argue that the plaintiff was in any way negligent and win a contributory negligence defense. A common contributory negligence argument is known as last clear chance. The last clear chance doctrine allows defendants to argue that if the plaintiff had the last reasonable opportunity to avoid their own injury, then the defendant is not liable for causing injury to the plaintiff.
In the twentieth century, most states moved to comparative fault, although a minority of jurisdictions continue to follow contributory negligence.
Colorado’s Comparative Fault Law
Colorado adopts a comparative fault or negligence doctrine, as outlined in Colorado Revised Statutes Section 13-21-111. This statute ensures that contributory negligence won’t bar recovery for personal injury or wrongful death, as long as the plaintiff’s negligence is not greater than that of the defendant. In the event of proven comparative negligence, damages awarded are reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s share of fault. Although comparative fault is not as merciless to plaintiffs, it can nevertheless result in a severe reduction in the value of your case.
Modified Comparative Negligence in Colorado
Colorado employs a modified comparative negligence law, allowing a plaintiff to recover damages despite their comparative negligence, but only up to 49 percent fault. If a plaintiff is deemed 50 percent or more at fault, they receive no financial compensation. In contrast, a pure comparative negligence state permits compensation eligibility even with 99 percent fault on the plaintiff’s part.
Colorado’s comparative fault law does not allow defendants to raise contributory negligence defenses, although it is common for insurance adjusters and insurance defense attorneys to raise these arguments against unsuspecting accident victims.
Implications for Your Personal Injury Claim
In line with Colorado’s modified comparative fault law, if your fault is less than 50 percent, your compensatory award is reduced in accordance with your negligence degree. For instance, if the judge assigns 80 percent fault to the defendant and 20 percent to you, your $50,000 verdict would be diminished by a corresponding 20 percent, resulting in a $40,000 award.
Engaging a personal injury attorney in Denver becomes crucial if you believe you contributed to the accident. Your financial recovery might face a substantial reduction or complete elimination if you’re found at fault. An attorney can strategically counter the comparative negligence defense, presenting evidence that places more blame on the defendant, such as police reports or eyewitness statements, ultimately maximizing your financial recovery.
An extremely common tactic employed by insurance adjusters is to attempt to obtain a recorded statement from you as early in the process as possible. They will use the recorded statement to try to get you to admit to comparative fault. Once they have a recorded admission, they will use that recording to reduce the value of your case in settlement negotiations or even at trial in front of the jury. One obvious reason they try to obtain a recorded statement quickly is to catch you before you hire a personal injury attorney. They know once you hire an attorney, your attorney will generally refuse to allow a statement.
For a comprehensive understanding of how Colorado’s comparative negligence law may impact your personal injury claim, consult with an attorney at Front Range Injury Attorneys. We offer free consultations for accident victims to understand their legal rights and the fair value of their cases. Talk to our experienced personal injury attorneys today.