After an automobile accident, you may be left with expensive medical bills, car repairs, and be forced to take time off of work to recover. When someone else caused the accident, they should be responsible for paying for your expenses. In a personal injury lawsuit, compensation for losses is known as “damages.” The victim in a car accident can seek damages for all losses related to the accident.
Damages in an automobile accident can depend on the cause of the accident, the seriousness of the injuries, and the individuals involved. The insurance company may try and make a settlement offer that is less than the value of the damages so make sure you understand your rights and options before accepting any settlement offer.
The attorneys at accidentdenver.com have represented injury victims in Colorado car accidents. We will investigate your claim, deal with the insurance company, and fight to get you the money to replace your car, pay your medical bills, and cover your lost income after an accident. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Auto Accident Damages in Colorado
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injury victim, or “plaintiff,” files a claim for damages against the defendant or defendants. The plaintiff has to show that the defendant(s) are liable for the damages and the judge or jury can award the plaintiff financial compensation. If there are multiple defendants, the court can allocate liability among the defendants and each defendant will have to pay a pro-rata share of damages.
Compensatory damages in a car accident are intended to compensate the plaintiff for their losses. This includes both economic and non-economic damages. In limited situations, the defendant may also be assessed punitive damages, which are intended to penalize the defendant for their wrongful actions. Talk to your Denver auto accident attorney about the damages available in your case.
Economic Damages After a Denver Auto Accident
Economic damages include the cost required to put the victim into a similar position the victim would have been if the accident had never occurred. This includes the financial costs the victim has expended, is being charged, or will continue to cost the victim into the future.
Economic damages in an injury accident include any financial cost of the accident and generally include the following:
- Vehicle repairs and property damage,
- Medical treatment,
- Future medical treatment,
- Loss of income, and
- Loss of future income.
The cost of medical care includes the costs to treat the victim after the accident and any future related medical expenses. With a permanent injury, the victim may have continuing medical costs for the rest of their lives. In these situations, an expert can testify as to the projected costs of future medical care to provide the judge or jury with a basis for calculating total damages.
A serious injury, permanent injury, or disfigurement can mean that the injury victim will no longer be able to pursue their previous job or future job opportunities limited by their injury. For example, a pilot who is injured in a car accident and suffers permanent damage to the eye may not be able to work any longer as a pilot. This can result in a dramatic loss of earning potential because of the accident caused by a negligent driver.
Property damage after an accident is generally measured by the cost to repair or replace a damaged vehicle. It may also include the lost value of any property damaged in the accident.
Non-Economic Damages in a Car Accident
Non-economic damages are available to compensate the accident victim for the harmful results of the accident on their life and those around them. Non-economic damages in an injury accident may include:
- Pain and suffering,
- Emotional distress,
- Loss of enjoyment of life,
- Inconvenience, and
- Loss of consortium.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering includes physical pain caused by the immediate effects of an accident as well as continuing pain caused by the injuries. Common car accident injuries, like head, neck, or back injuries, can be difficult to diagnose and treat and lead to continuing pain and limit mobility. Pain after an accident can also lead to depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
When providing evidence of pain and suffering, the victim may be able to demonstrate the extent of their pain through:
- Medical records,
- Mental health records,
- Pain treatment,
- Loss of enjoyment in life,
- Loss of ability to participate in prior activities, and
- Loss of ability to do activities with partners or family members.
A car accident is a traumatic event. The trauma from a car crash can be made worse when the victim is trapped in the vehicle, witnesses pain or death in another, and fear that their injuries will be permanent. Victims in a car accident can suffer anxiety, depression, nightmares, insomnia, and fundamentally change a person's life.
Automobile accidents can cause permanent physical injuries to the victims. Permanent injuries include loss of a digit or limb, partial paralysis, loss of vision, loss of hearing, permanent nerve damage, burn injuries, and scarring. This can be a permanent change to the victim's body that they will have to live with for the rest of their life. The victim should be able to be compensated for the permanent disfigurement caused by a negligent driver.
Loss of Consortium
Loss of consortium is a term used in some personal injury claims to address the losses to the partner of the accident victim. The partner of the injury victim may also suffer as a result of the accident and may be able to seek compensation in the injury lawsuit. This includes the loss of services provided by the injury victim, loss of affection, and harm to the sexual relationship caused by the accident.
When are Punitive Damages Available in a Personal Injury Claim?
Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their reckless actions. Also called exemplary damages, these are available in limited situations where the defendant engaged in malicious, willful, wanton, or intentional action that resulted in injury or death.
Under CRS 13-21-102, willful and wanton conduct is, “conduct purposefully committed which the actor must have realized as dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the plaintiff.”
Punitive damages are used both to punish the defendant for their conduct and to send a message to others to act as a deterrent to such reckless or malicious conduct. For example, if a tire manufacturer was aware that a defect made the tires dangerous and hid this information from consumers, a court may determine that such dangerous actions warrant punitive damages to punish the manufacturer and deter other manufacturers from doing something similar in the future.
In Colorado, the amount of exemplary damages are generally limited to an amount equal to the amount of actual damages. However, a court can award a greater amount (up to three times the amount of actual damages), if it finds:
- The defendant has continued the behavior or repeated the action in a willful and wanton manner, either against the plaintiff or another person or persons, during the pendency of the case; or
- The defendant has acted in a willful and wanton manner during the pendency of the action in a manner which has further aggravated the damages of the plaintiff when the defendant knew or should have known such action would produce aggravation.
Caps on Damages in Colorado
There may be a cap on non-economic damages in a wrongful death claim. Generally, the maximum damages for pain and suffering is $250,000, which is adjusted for inflation. For fatal accidents occurring after January 1, 2008, the cap amounts to $468,010.
Where there is “clear and convincing evidence,” that a higher amount of pain and suffering damages is warranted, the maximum amount is $500,000, adjusted for inflation. For accidents occurring after January 1, 2008, the clear and convincing cap amounts to $936,030.
However, there is no cap on non-economic damages where the victim suffers a permanent physical impairment. There is not a statutory definition for what qualifies as a permanent physical injury. Anyone who suffers permanent harm after an auto accident should not be limited by caps for their suffering. Even if you do not think your injuries qualify as a permanent physical impairment, talk to your Denver accident lawyers about the damages available in your case.
Wrongful Death Damages
In a fatal accident, the injury victim is not alive to file a personal injury claim. Instead, the family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the negligent driver responsible for their actions. The damages in a wrongful death claim are those suffered by the family members and can include any economic and non-economic damages suffered by the family related to the death of the accident victim.
Economic damages include the costs directly related to the accident as well as future and continuing costs caused by the deceased who would no longer be able to contribute to the family members. Economic damages in a wrongful death claim can include:
- Medical bills,
- Property damage,
- Funeral expenses,
- Burial costs,
- Loss of the decedent's services,
- Loss of the decedent's income, and
- Loss of the benefits.
Non-economic damages can include losses like pain and suffering, loss of support, and loss of consortium.
Collecting Damages From the Defendant
Even if the judge or jury awards you damages after a car accident does not mean that the defendant will be able to pay. If the other driver has auto insurance, then the insurance company will generally cover the damages up to the liability limit. If the damages are more than the insurance coverage limit, then the driver is liable for the remainder.
When a driver does not have much money or assets, they may not be able to pay the damages. An injury victim may then be able to go after the negligent driver's bank accounts, garnish wages, or seize assets.
Comparative Fault and Damages
Under Colorado personal injury law, fault may be attributed to different parties and each party may be liable for their own share of the damages. For example, in a multiple vehicle accident, two drivers may have been partly to blame for the accident that injured a third driver. If one driver is 40% at fault for the accident, that driver may be liable for 40% of the damages.
Comparative fault can also be attributed to the injury victim. If a court determines that the plaintiff was 30% at fault for the accident and the other driver was 70% at fault, the injury victim can seek 70% of the total damages from the other driver.
Settlement Offers and Damages
The judge or jury generally determines the amount of damages after a personal injury lawsuit. However, most car accident claims are settled before they go through trial. It is ultimately up to the injury victim whether or not to accept a settlement offer. Your auto accident injury lawyer will be able to negotiate to get a settlement that will fairly compensate you for your losses.
It is important to understand the full extent of your damages before accepting a settlement offer. The insurance company may offer a small amount to get you to take the money and sign away your rights to sue. Before you accept a settlement, talk to your Denver accident injury lawyer to make sure you understand your rights, options, and are getting the maximum compensation for your injuries.
Denver Auto Accident Injury Lawyers
The attorneys at accidentdenver.com have successfully represented their clients and families who were involved in injury accidents in Colorado. Our attorneys understand how the insurance companies operate and will fight to get the maximum compensation available for your injuries. Contact us today for a free consultation.