Comparative Negligence in Colorado
Auto accidents happen every day in Colorado. Often, more than one party is at least partially at fault. For example, two cars collide in an intersection. One car was turning left. The other was traveling 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. In the past, many states applied the doctrine of contributory negligence to this situation. Under this doctrine, if the party seeking damages was in any way at fault, they were barred from receiving compensation from the other party. Over time, states and courts came to believe that this rule was too punitive and not fair. In order to address this inequity, many states enacted comparative negligence laws.
What Are Comparative Negligence Laws?
Comparative negligence allows a party to recover damages from another if their negligence was not greater than the other party’s. If they are partially at fault, they can collect but are only allowed to recover to the degree that the other party was at fault.
Colorado’s comparative negligence law is found in C.R.S. § 13-21-111. This statute provides: “contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action by any person or his legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if such negligence was not as great as the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made.”
How Relative Fault Factors In
Where two or more parties are at fault, a determination is made, allocating each party’s relative fault. In the car crash example, if the case were to go to trial, the judge or jury would first determine the total damages of the party seeking compensation. Then, they would determine the degree of fault for each party and apply that to the total damages. The comparative negligence doctrine statute, however, only comes into play when there is evidence that the party seeking damages bore some degree of fault.
For example, assume the party turning left’s total damages were determined to be $100,000. If he was found to be 70% at fault, he would not be able to collect any damages from the other party because he was more at fault than they were. If he was found to be 30% at fault, the damages he could recover would be reduced by 30%, or $30,000. As a result, he could only recover $70,000. If the other party was determined to be 100% at fault, then the driver seeking damages could recover the full extent of his damages, or $100,000.
How Juries Address Comparative Fault Claims
The typical Colorado jury instruction addressing comparative negligence cases is as follows:
We, the jury, present our Answers to Questions submitted by the Court, to which we have all agreed:
- Did the plaintiff, (name), have (injuries) (damages) (losses)? (Yes or No)
- Was the defendant, (name), negligent? (Yes or No)
- Was the defendant’s negligence, if any, a cause of any of the (injuries) (damages) (losses) claimed by the plaintiff? (Yes or No)
- Was the plaintiff, (name), negligent? (Yes or No)
- Was the plaintiff’s negligence, if any, a cause of (his) (her) own claimed (injuries) (damages) (losses)? (Yes or No)
- State your answers to the following questions relating to the plaintiff’s damages that were caused by the negligence of the defendant, whether the damages were also caused by the negligence, if any, of the plaintiff (or anyone else).
- What is the total amount of plaintiff’s damages, if any, for noneconomic losses or injuries (, excluding any damages for [physical impairment] [or] [disfigurement])? Noneconomic losses or injuries are those losses or injuries described in numbered paragraph 1 of Instruction (insert number of the applicable Instruction on damages). You should answer “0” if you determine there were none.
- What is the total amount of plaintiff’s damages, if any, for economic losses (, excluding any damages for [physical impairment] [or] [disfigurement])? Economic losses are those losses described in numbered paragraph 2 of Instruction (insert number of applicable Instruction on damages). You should answer “0” if you determine there were none.
(c. What is the total amount of plaintiff’s damages, if any, for [physical impairment] [or] [disfigurement]? You should answer “0” if you determine there were none.)
Answer the following question 7 only if your answer to all five questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 is “yes.”
- Taking as 100 percent the combined negligence of the defendant and the plaintiff that caused the plaintiff’s (injuries) (damages) (losses), what percentage of the negligence was the defendant’s and what percentage was the plaintiff’s?
Percentage charged to defendant, (name): _______%
Percentage charged to plaintiff, (name): _______%
MUST TOTAL: 100%
Signatures of all jurors:
Complicated Claims Require Top-Notch Representation
Negligence claims often appear to be easy to determine who was at fault. However, many times, small facts and circumstances come into play and cause the plaintiff to be found at fault to some degree. Insurance companies are well-versed in the concepts of comparative negligence and will often use them to their benefit. Allegations that the plaintiff bore some of the responsibility for the crash can have significant effects on the outcome of the case.
If you’ve been involved in an auto collision and believe you are entitled to be compensated by the other party, you need an experienced Colorado Springs car accident lawyer to fight back arguments of comparative fault. You should call the attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation. Dial (719) 475-2555 to discuss your rights.