What happens when more than one person causes an injury? How does the insurance company pay the claim when different insurance companies are responsible for one injury? Although the situation is inherently complicated, it is navigable under Colorado liability laws.
One Accident, Multiple Negligent Parties
It is not unusual for someone to be injured by the negligence of more than one person or party. Consider an icy intersection when several cars go too fast and fail to stop for a stop sign. Two (or more) drivers may be responsible for the car accident and the injuries to the driver who had the right of way. Or consider a slip and fall accident at a store: both the owner of the business and the owner of the premises may have created an unsafe condition for customers in the store through negligence.
Colorado law used to permit the person who was injured by the negligence of two or more persons to pick one negligent party (usually the one with the most assets to pay for the claim) and pursue the injury claim against just that one. In 1986, however, the Colorado state legislature passed a law that required claimants to name all responsible parties as defendants so that the court could look at all the facts and assess the appropriate percentage of fault against each person who caused the injury. The purpose of the statute was to make each negligent party pay no more than its fair share of the damages owed to the injured party.
Adequate Notices of Non-Party Fault
To escape full and fair liability, some defendants might be tempted to blame anyone who was near to the accident and then leave it up to the plaintiff to figure out who is actually liable. The legal update anticipated this unfair strategy, though, and has a clause regarding “adequate notices” of a “non-party’s” fault. Simplified, the law requires one defendant to give notice to the claimant if they think another defendant should be named in the claim as well. For example, an auto insurance company defending a claim could tell the claimant that it has reason to believe a third driver with a different auto insurance provider also holds some or all of the blame.
Adequate notices of a non-party’s fault must include or consider:
- The designation of another party must include the name and last known address of the other party or “the best identification of such nonparty which is possible under the circumstances.” This means that the designation of another party must be the result of a reasonable investigation of the facts.
- The designation of another party at fault for the injury must contain “a brief statement” of the factual and legal basis for the negligent party’s belief that the other part was partly at fault for the injury. This means the defendant has to say why that other party is to blame.
- If a lawsuit was filed for the injury claim, the negligent party who was sued must designate other parties it claims were also at fault within 90 days of when the injury claim was filed in court.
Shared Liability & Damages
Although the law only applies specifically to injury claims that have been filed in court, insurance adjusters will also apply the law to evaluate the amount of money the insurance company will pay to the injured claimant. In negotiating a settlement of an injury claim, an insurance adjuster may assert, for example, that another party (not their insured) was 50% at fault for the injury and, thus, only offer half of what the claim may be worth. The insurance adjuster will stick to this position even if the “non-party at fault” has no insurance or assets to pay for their proposed share of the damages. This position will make a settlement of the claim impossible in most cases.
When an injury is caused by more than one person, resolution of that injury claim can be complex and will likely require the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. If you have this kind of tricky injury claim, consider requesting a free initial consultation with Clawson & Clawson, LLP in Colorado. Our attorneys can discuss all the options you might have now so that you can confidently pursue the best way to get your claim resolved, even when an insurance company tries to escape liability.