In 2020, mainly because of COVID-19 restrictions, the number of vehicle miles traveled in Colorado dropped. Yet the number of fatal vehicle crashes increased. Things got worse in 2021 when the number of deadly accidents hit a 20-year high. That pattern doesn’t bode well for 2022 and beyond.
Many believe that during the pandemic, drivers developed bad habits. For example, many drivers began speeding and ignoring rules on nearly empty streets and highways. The police also issued fewer traffic tickets in 2020.
Driver error causes almost all of the car crashes in Colorado. Examples are speeding, changing lanes unsafely, missing a stop sign, and running a red light. Some crashes happen before the driver gets behind the wheel. Common causes of driver impairment include drugs, alcohol, and fatigue. If Billy forgets to walk the dog and the dog has an accident, Billy must clean it up. Likewise, if Billy is driving and causes an accident, he must pay for damages.
We all understand this basic negligence principle, which applies in all states. However, specific rules vary in different shapes and different cases. If Billy’s dog has an accident, his caregivers probably won’t listen to any excuses. On the other hand, if Billy causes a car accident, some of the reasons outlined below could reduce or even eliminate compensation to an injured victim.
These rules vary in different counties and even in various courts within counties. As a result, things can get very confusing during a topsy-turvy time in a victim’s life. Fortunately, an auto accident attorney in Colorado knows all the state’s rules and quirks. Experienced lawyers who understand the law can devote 100% of their efforts to your case. As a result, an auto accident attorney in Colorado is well-positioned to get the most payment for your serious injuries.
Billy’s dog’s accident could have been prevented. Billy knew what he was supposed to do. For one reason or another, he didn’t do it. Since he ignored his responsibilities, he must take responsibility for his mistake.
These same ideas apply to injury claims. An auto accident attorney in Colorado calls such a claim an ordinary negligence claim. A common negligence car wreck claim has four elements:
- Duty (responsibility). Little Billy was responsible for listening to his caregiver and doing his chores. Big Billy must obey the rules of the road and drive defensively. That’s called a duty of reasonable care. Commercial drivers in Colorado, like bus drivers and Uber drivers, usually have a higher duty of care. It’s not enough to drive defensively. Since passengers depend on them for safe conduct, they must take extra steps to avoid crashes.
- Breach of duty (ignored responsibilities). If Billy were supposed to walk the dog at 3:00 and didn’t do it until 3:01, Billy probably wouldn’t get in trouble even if the dog had had an accident. If Billy never walked the dog, though, things would be different. Likewise, not every driving error is a breach of duty. Most jurors would say that speeding 1 mile per hour over the limit, though technically illegal, isn’t a big deal. However, if the person at fault was traveling 20 miles per hour over the limit at the time of the wreck, that’s different.
- Cause (control or lack of power). If a neighbor's dog had an accident on the floor and we don’t know how it happened, the accident most likely isn’t Billy’s fault. Likewise, if a defective tire blew out on Billy’s car, causing him to lose control, the accident probably wasn’t Billy’s fault. In a negligence claim, cause also has a legal element. An auto accident attorney in Colorado calls this element foreseeability (the ability to see the problem coming). If the ambulance has a flat tire on the way to the hospital and the crash victim dies, that wrongful fatality isn’t Billy’s fault. The incident was unforeseeable.
- Damages (consequences of a mistake). Little Billy must clean up the dog’s accident, and big Billy must pay for damages. This payment usually includes lost wage replacement and other tangible losses and intangible losses, such as emotional distress. Accident victims shouldn’t have to pay accident-related bills out of their own pockets, like medical expenses. Payment for intangible losses makes life after an accident more bearable. That’s what all victims deserve.
Once upon a time, many victims weren’t entitled to non-economic damages in Colorado. However, lawmakers repealed the state’s no-fault insurance law in 2003.
We mentioned some possible excuses above. Some insurance company defenses, which vary in different states, include comparative fault and the seat belt defense. Usually, the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof in a negligence claim. If the insurance company raises a reason, though, it has the burden of proof on this point.
Comparative fault shifts accident blame from one driver to another one. If little Billy tried to walk the dog, but his brother hid the dog’s leash, the dog’s accident wasn’t entirely Billy’s fault. The fault division between Billy and his brother might be 50-50, 80-20, or some other proportion. Similarly, if big Billy was speeding when he hit a car that changed lanes illegally, only part of the accident was Billy’s fault.
This principle is the same in every state, but different forms have different rules for the division of responsibility. Colorado is a modified comparative fault state with a 50% bar. Drivers who are at least 50% responsible for a wreck are liable for a proportionate share of damages.
The same analysis applies to the seat belt defense. Colorado, like most other states, has a mandatory seat belt law. The seat belt requirement has a limited effect on civil claims. In this state, an insurance company lawyer can use the driver's failure to wear a seat belt only to reduce the number of noneconomic damages, like compensation for emotional distress.
Once again, the insurance company has the burden of proof in this area. The insurance company must prove that the seat belt was working and the victim wasn’t wearing it. Furthermore, the insurance company must prove that the failure to use a seat belt, instead of the other motorist's negligence, substantially caused the injury.
Defenses like these could be available in some negligence per se claims. Still, the issue is rather complex.
Negligence Per Se
In most cases, the duty of reasonable care mentioned above establishes the standard of care. Other times, however, a safety law, like the DUI law, sets the standard of care. If a driver breaks a safety law and causes an injury, the driver could be responsible for damages as a matter of law.
We mentioned DUI as an example. This law varies in different states. For example, this state prohibits DUI (driving while intoxicated) and DWAI (driving while ability impaired), a lesser offense. Therefore, the negligence per se rule could apply to drunk or impaired drivers.
The cell phone law is another example. Many states have broad cell phone bans that prohibit all drivers, or at least most drivers, from using their devices while they’re behind the wheel. However, this state prohibits only drivers under 18 from using cell phones. Some cities may have broader bans.
The negligence per se rule applies only if an emergency responder issues a citation. That doesn’t happen often. A car wreck is strictly a civil matter for too many emergency responders. They don’t want to write tickets and become witnesses in civil cases.
Auto Accident Attorneys in Colorado Can Help
We briefly mentioned the amount of payment in a car accident claim above. Now, let’s look at some laws in this state that could affect the amount of money victims receive after an accident.
Almost everyone believes that little Billy should be responsible for his dog’s accident. Most people also believe big Billy should pay for a vehicle accident. On the other hand, opinions are divided about CEO Billy’s level of responsibility for an accident.
The law in this state follows this process. Colorado law doesn’t limit the number of economic damages (lost wage replacement). State law limits the amount of non-economic damages (emotional distress, etc.) to $468,000 in most cases. A judge may double this amount if there is clear and convincing evidence that the increase is necessary. In other words, jurors who hear the case don’t decide how much a victim’s pain and suffering is worth. Politicians in the state capital make that decision.
Furthermore, under state law, the amount of punitive damages cannot exceed the amount of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are extra damages that punish drivers who ignore known risks.
The 1994 McDonald’s hot coffee case is a good example. After the fast-food giant refused to settle on reasonable terms, a woman who had spilled hot coffee on herself sued the restaurant. Jurors heard evidence that several hundred McDonald’s customers had complained about the coffee’s high temperature, but the company did nothing. It ignored a known risk. As a result, jurors ordered the restaurant to pay $2.7 million in punitive damages.
That figure sounds unfairly high, but that’s how much money McDonald’s made in one day on coffee sales. Considering the facts, that’s a reasonable amount of punitive damages. Two million dollars to McDonald’s is like $200 to you or me.
Additionally, the collateral source rule is only available in limited situations. This rule covers third-party payments and reductions that often pay some of a car crash victim’s medical bills. Some people have health insurance policies that cover part of these costs. Other times, an auto accident attorney in Colorado works with a provider and cuts the bill. Victims will receive a maximum payment if someone else pays part of a bill. However, they don’t get credit if an auto accident attorney in Colorado talks down the bill.
Third-party liability is another critical topic in this area. Many times, the negligent driver isn’t financially responsible for damages. That burden falls on someone else.
Alcohol provider liability is one example. In this state, restaurants, bars, and other commercial providers are financially responsible for alcohol-related crash damages if they knowingly and willfully served alcohol to a visibly drunk person who later caused a wreck. That’s a high standard of proof, so an auto accident attorney in Colorado needs a lot of evidence on this point.
Owner liability is another example. The negligent entrustment theory applies if owners knowingly allow incompetent operators to use their cars and these drivers cause crashes. Family members who borrow someone else’s car and commercial negligent entrustment (e.g., U-Haul trucks) are the most common.
Third-party liability is relatively easy to show in these cases in many states, but Colorado is different. State courts only use the family purpose doctrine in limited situations. This makes it hard to prove private owner responsibility. Furthermore, this state doesn’t have a vicarious liability law, so it’s tough to establish vicarious liability in commercial negligent entrustment cases.
Vicarious liability is essential in all cases. It’s critical in catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims. Many individuals don’t have enough insurance to fully cover the victims' or survivors’ losses.
Auto Accidents in Major Colorado Cities
The number of crashes and how courts handle them vary among significant cities, partly because of factors specific to them. The following are examples of crash statistics and laws in Colorado's largest cities.
As mentioned, the number of fatal accidents will increase statewide in 2021. The increase was even steeper in Denver. Colorado State Patrol Chief Matthew Packard called the situation "a crisis." Most of these fatal crashes involved an impaired motorist and an unrestrained victim. We discussed the applicable state laws in these areas above.
The victim-unfriendly laws in this state aren’t the only obstacles to maximum compensation in Denver County. Jurors in urban areas often sympathize with insurance companies, and Denver is the largest city in the state. Jurors from such places often latch onto defenses like the ones mentioned above.
Other juror hostility often affects a claim’s settlement value. Since the risk at trial is higher, unless attorneys collect lots of evidence, they may not be able to obtain maximum payment. Instead, victims might have to settle for less.
The legal landscape in Colorado Springs is much different. Since the city is more minor, jurors usually don’t sympathize with insurance companies. Instead, they feel closer to victims since most jurors have probably been affected by a car crash somehow. Insurance company lawyers are aware of this difference, so they often make larger settlement offers to avoid trial.
An injury claim’s settlement value is like a new car’s sticker price. The settlement value, which combines economic and noneconomic losses, is a starting point for settlement negotiations. Counting the financial cost of a car wreck isn't too hard. To calculate the noneconomic cost, most lawyers multiply the economic damages by three, four, or five, depending on the facts of the case.
As in most other cities in this state, the number of fatal wrecks in Colorado Springs has increased since 2016.
In Aurora, fatal vehicle collisions hit a record high in 2021. The Colorado State Patrol said it would step up traffic enforcement to reduce the number of deadly accidents.
This town and its surrounding areas are divided into several different counties. This arrangement is prevalent in large urban areas like metro Denver. As a result, if you or a loved one was hurt or killed in a car wreck, the case may have venue issues.
The venue is the legal ability of a court to hear a dispute. Usually, the platform lies in the county where the accident happened or where the victim/plaintiff resides. Either choice has pros and cons.
We mentioned some size-related venue pros and cons above. Location matters as well. Filing in the county of residence often gives the home-field advantage to the victim/plaintiff. However, most of the evidence, including all physical evidence, is in the county where the accident happened.
There were more fatal crashes in Larimer County in 2020, but the figure wasn’t much higher. The relatively new roads in many parts of Fort Collins might have played a role in this slight increase.
The newness in Fort Collins may also affect the way an auto accident attorney in Colorado handles an injury claim. Many of the new courtrooms in Larimer County promote things like virtual hearings and electronic evidence presentations. Judges and jurors expect attorneys to use these features.
Sometimes an auto accident attorney in Colorado should think twice before setting a live pretrial hearing. Many judges aren’t in perfect moods if they cannot handle hearings from their offices or homes. Many lawyers introduce electronic evidence at trials, such as surveillance video footage and data from a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder (EDR). An EDR is much like a jet’s black box flight recorder.
In 2020, Denver had 61 traffic fatalities, and Lakewood had 18. The difference is disturbing since Denver is five times bigger than Lakewood. The math doesn’t work out at all.
Lakewood is one of the oldest Denver suburbs. Many of the roads are older as well. They weren’t designed to handle such a high traffic volume. This age could affect your court case. Many Jeffco County courtrooms haven’t been extensively remodeled lately, so the capacity for electronic evidence and virtual hearings is more limited. This limitation usually changes the way attorneys present injury cases in Lakewood.
Reach out to Accident.com today to find an auto accident attorney in Colorado who can help with your case.