There are two different systems when it comes to collecting compensation after a motor vehicle accident. Under a no-fault system, accident victims can file a claim with their own insurance providers regardless of who was at fault for the crash and seek compensation through a type of coverage known as personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) coverage. In a fault-based system (also known as a “tort” system), injured victims must typically file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company to receive compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
Colorado follows a fault-based system. This means that you will typically need to turn to the other person or party’s insurance company to be compensated for your losses after an accident. While this has certain benefits—namely, your potential recovery is not limited in the same way it would be if the state operated under a no-fault system—it also prevents several challenges.
To recover compensation after a car accident in Colorado, you will need to prove the following:
- Someone else was at fault for the accident
- You were injured due to the other party’s negligent or wrongful conduct
- You suffered measurable damages
The first element—proving fault—is often the most complicated. It is important that you work with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options.
Proving Fault in a Car Accident Case
In most cases, proving fault typically involves proving that another driver was negligent. In Colorado and throughout the United States, motorists owe others on the road a duty of care. This means that they have a responsibility to act in a reasonable manner and respect the safety of others, including fellow motorists, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. If a driver breaches this duty of care, they are generally considered negligent and can be held legally liable for any accidents they cause.
While this concept is fairly easy to understand, actually proving that another driver was negligent can be very challenging. In many cases, the other driver will dispute your claim that he or she was at fault. If there is no concrete evidence that the other driver was engaging in objectively negligent behavior, such as driving while drunk or high or texting while driving, it can be difficult to prove that they were to blame for the crash.
Often, proving fault comes down to investigating the accident and determining whether one motorist had the right of way or if someone made a mistake that caused the collision.
The other driver may have been negligent if he or she was:
- Texting or otherwise distracted
- Drunk or impaired by alcohol/drugs
- Violating traffic laws
- Engaging in road rage
- Driving recklessly or aggressively
- Making an unsafe or unlawful turn
- Passing unlawfully
It is important to document everything you can about the accident—including anything you can remember about the events leading up to the crash—as soon as possible. If you can, you should also talk to witnesses who saw what happened and write down their name(s) and contact information.
What If Both Drivers Were at Fault?
In some cases, fault is fairly black and white. Think of a drunk driver who runs a red light, hitting another person lawfully driving through the intersection. But often, fault is shared between multiple parties. What happens if you were partly to blame for the accident? Can you still recover compensation for your injuries, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering?
Under Colorado’s modified comparative negligence rule, you can still file a claim for damages as long as you were less than 50% at fault. In other words, you have to prove that the other driver was more at fault for the accident than you were to recover compensation for your damages.
Additionally, the degree of fault you are determined to have is important, as it directly affects your recovery. If you are found to be partly at fault for the accident, you will not be able to recover the total amount you would have otherwise been entitled to had you not been to blame whatsoever; rather, your recovery will be reduced by your at-fault percentage.
For example, if you got into an accident while you and another motorist were turning at an intersection, and the jury finds that you were 20% to blame, you will only be able to recover up to 80% of your total damages. So, if you sustained $10,000 in medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages, you would only be able to recover up to $8,000.
Should You Hire a Car Accident Attorney?
In Colorado, you are not required to hire an attorney for your car accident claim. However, there are many benefits to working with a skilled legal professional. As previously mentioned, these cases involve many nuanced issues—the process of proving fault and establishing liability can be very complex, and you must also prove that you suffered injuries and damages because of another person or party’s negligence.
When you work with an attorney at Clawson & Clawson, we can handle all the legal details—from investigating the accident and working with accident reconstruction experts to negotiating with the insurance company on your behalf—so that you can focus on what matters most: healing.
Contact us today to learn more about how our Colorado Springs car accident attorneys can help you with your personal injury claim. Call (719) 602-5888 for a free consultation.