Understanding Colorado’s Damage Cap Laws

Colorado damage caps

Colorado is one of many states with damage caps on specific types of claims. Damage caps can limit your recovery when you file a personal injury, medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit, and it's important to understand how these damage caps may affect your case.

What is a damage cap?

When you file a lawsuit against someone in a tort or personal injury case, you are seeking monetary damages as compensation for your injuries. These damages are divided into two main categories: economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are your actual expenses like medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages are all other forms of damages that are difficult to quantify such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.

A damage cap is like a ceiling for a specific type of claim; it is the maximum amount you can recover regardless of the circumstances of your case and how badly you were injured.

The purpose of a damage cap is preventing tort verdicts from getting out of control and becoming a burden on the economy.

To demonstrate the effect of high jury awards, consider what happens when a jury awards millions to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. Even though the award may be well deserved, it will likely prompt the insurance company to increase costs within their networks to offset their costs. This increases the cost of insurance for other doctors and medical providers, raises the cost to practice medicine and indirectly increases the cost of medical care for other patients. Damage caps are intended to avoid this effect.

Colorado Damage Caps for Personal Injury Claims

There is no cap on the amount of economic damages a plaintiff may receive in a personal injury claim, although Colorado law does limit damages for pain and suffering to $250,000 (plus inflation). As of 2017, the maximum adjusted amount you can receive for pain and suffering is $468,010.

There are exceptions that can increase the damage cap for pain and suffering. If there is convincing evidence that an increase is justified, you can be awarded up to $936,030. Pain and suffering in medical malpractice claims are subject to a different damage cap.

Additionally, there is no cap on pain and suffering damages for plaintiffs who suffered a permanent physical impairment. If a jury classifies damages in the permanent physical impairment category, there will typically be no cap on damages. Because there is no generally accepted definition of permanent physical impairment in the state, an injury lawyer has a great deal of leeway to argue for a higher award.

Colorado Damage Caps for Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice cases are subject to more damage caps than any other claim. In medical malpractice cases against doctors, hospitals, chiropractors or negligent nursing homes, the cap for non-economic damages is $300,000. Total damages are capped at just $1 million which includes the non-economic damages.

There is no exception to the damages cap on medical malpractice claims and no permanent physical impairment category for unlimited damages. The only way to exceed the cap is when a court determines with good cause that the cap would be unfair. This may be the case when a birth injury leads to long-term medical needs for a child that would exceed $1 million a year, for example.

Wrongful Death Damage Caps in Colorado

Wrongful death claims may be brought forward on behalf of a victim's surviving family members. In Colorado, heirs can claim non-economic damages associated with the loss up to $436,070. Economic damages, including burial costs and money the family member would have earned and contributed to the family, have no cap.

Dram Shop Damage Caps in Colorado

Dram shop claims are brought by victims of drunk drivers against a bar or tavern responsible for the driver's excessive intoxication. Dram shop claims are notoriously difficult to prove as a plaintiff must prove the bar served alcohol to someone who was already visibly intoxicated. When a dram shop claim can be proved, total damages are limited to just $280,810 regardless of your total losses.

Punitive Damage Caps

Punitive damages are uncommon, but they are designed to punish a wrongdoer for especially egregious conduct that results in injury or death. Punitive damages are a punishment and not tied directly to a victim's losses. Under Colorado law, punitive damages are limited under the "one for one" rule. This means punitive damages cannot exceed the actual damages a jury awards.

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Attorney Profile:

Meet Colorado Workers' Compensation, Personal Injury and Insurance Dispute Attorney R. Mack Babcock

Prior to founding The Babcock Law Firm, LLC, R. Mack Babcock spent many years on the other side of workers' compensation , personal injury and insurance disputes representing some of the largest insurance companies and corporations in Colorado as an attorney at a midsize insurance defense firm.

Babcock is a member of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations, the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association and the Workers' Compensation Educational Association.  In early 2008, he was elected as the Colorado House District 43 Committee Chairperson for the Douglas County Colorado Democratic Party. In connection with this position, he is responsible for finding a candidate(s) to run for House District 43, overseeing the campaign(s), organizing volunteers, and also sits on the executive committee for the Douglas County Democratic Party.