Many states, including Colorado, have recently adopted laws which limit the amount victims in personal injury lawsuits may collect. These limits are called “caps on damages” or simply “caps” because they cap the amount of money which may be awarded. For different circumstances, different caps may apply. Most frequently, these caps apply to the non-economic damages, the “pain and suffering” damages. The damages caps commonly encountered when pursuing a claim arising from a Colorado truck accident are discussed below.
Caps on Personal Injury Damages
The harm caused by a personal injury is called “damages” – the damage done by the accident or conduct. Damages are often categorized as either economic, such as loss wages or medical expense, and non-economic, traditionally pain and suffering damages. The non-economic damages, such as physical and mental pain, and loss of enjoyment of life, cannot be proved with any clear specificity, but are awarded based on the fact that they normally follow from an accident or injury. They are also referred to as “non-pecuniary,” meaning not consisting of or measured in money.
Wrongful Death Noneconomic Loss
A wrongful death claim arises when the bad conduct of a party causes the death of another. Colorado has placed caps on the non-pecuniary damages incurred in a wrongful death case. The statutory limitation includes compensation for grief, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional stress. The caps for all claimants, for all of these element of a wrongful death case, excepting in the case of a “felonious killing,” is $341,250.00. This figure includes all adjustments for inflation pursuant to C.R.S. 13-21-203(1).
Different damage caps are applicable in wrongful death cases of medical malpractice, or cases against Colorado state or local governmental agencies, municipalities, cities, or other subdivisions of government.
Personal Injury Not Resulting in Death
Generally, a person seriously injured in a trucking accident may claim, without limitation by caps, all of their economic damages and compensation for any disfigurement or physical impairment. However, claims for pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life are capped by law at $366,250. Colorado Revised Statutes, §13-21-102.5. In certain special cases where the court finds justification by clear and convincing evidence for the jury award, the court may approve an award for these non-economic losses above the $366,250 cap, but never to exceed $732,500.00. In cases where more than one wrong-doer is responsible, the noneconomic damages cap applies to each award, rather than to each action; in this way, jury’s apportionment of fault percentages is retained while at the same time any award in excess of the statutory cap is limited. Niemet v. General Elec. Co., 843 P.2d 87 (Colo. App.1992) certiorari granted, affirmed 866 P.2d 1361.
Contrary to popular myth, punitive damages, also known as “exemplary” damages, are not routinely awarded, and not collected in dramatically huge amounts. In Colorado, to collect exemplary damages one must prove “fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct.” And then, “the award for exemplary damages cannot exceed the amount of the actual damages awarded to the injured party.”C.R.S. § 13-21-102
Before a plaintiff may seek exemplary damages, a lawsuit must be filed and discovery about the incident pursued to establish a basis for the claim. Typically, awards of exemplary damages are not covered by a driver’s insurance policy and many accident cases, the wrongful conduct needs to be attributed to a large company, not simply the driver, in order for the claim to be viable. This conduct is often only apparent after careful investigative work by your attorney, one more reason why you need an experienced lawyer representing you.