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How Comparative Negligence Can Affect Your Personal Injury Case

recovering lost wages after injury

In Colorado, state law makes it possible for personal injury victims to pursue compensation for the losses and damages sustained because of others’ negligence. Not only do these laws outline how to prove the case for negligence against the at-fault party, but also the types of allowed damages, deadlines for filing a lawsuit, and other guidelines about specific case types.

For those who suffered severe injuries in a motor vehicle or slip and fall accident, filing a personal injury case against the responsible party is sometimes necessary to get much-needed compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and more. The caveat to this process is Colorado is a “Modified Comparative Fault” state. This means two main things: First, an injured person holding any percentage of responsibility for the accident will have their award reduced by that percentage of liability. Second, if a Colorado jury finds that the injured person holds 50% or more responsibility, they can recover nothing from the at-fault party. So long as a victim does not hold over 49% of this contributing negligence, they can potentially recover personal injury damages.

Colorado Modified Comparative Negligence Guidelines

Personal injury cases are sometimes straightforward when fault is easily determined, and compensation awarded. Rear-end car accidents are generally a good example of this. Some Colorado cases have more than one party liable for causing injuries. This means a judge or jury will determine the proportion of fault each party contributed to the accident that led to injury. Auto accidents occurring in intersections, for example, often have multiple parties accusing each other of fault.

Since state law only requires a defendant to pay for the portion of the injury they caused, the court or jury involved in the case will have to consider the below finding in their verdict:

  • Percentage of liability for all parties involved in the suit
  • The recoverable amount of compensation according to assigned fault percentages, if applicable

Courts that find a plaintiff contributed more negligence than the defendant may not allow them any recovery under these modified comparative negligence standards

For example: June slipped on an icy sidewalk outside a grocery store in January. A snowstorm moved through the day before, and sidewalks were still slippery and wet. The grocery store had shoveled the sidewalk but did not put down salt or ice melt. Security camera footage showed June was wearing her high heels for work and she was running into the store when she fell. Possible jury outcomes are as follows:

  • The jury allows June $60,000 for her injuries and pain. They further find that the grocery store was 100% at fault for failing to put down ice melt and June was 0% at fault. The final verdict is $60,000 for June.
  • The jury allows June $60,000 for her injuries and pain. They further find that the grocery store was 80% at fault for failing to put down ice melt and June was 20% at fault for not taking more care when walking into the store. The final verdict for June is $48,000 (a reduction of 20%).
  • The jury allows June $60,000 for her injuries and pain. They further find that the grocery store was 50% at fault for failing to put down ice melt and June was 50% at fault for not taking more care when walking into the store. Because June’s fault was not less than 50%, her final verdict is $0.
  • The jury allows June $60,000 for her injuries and pain. They further find that the grocery store was 20% at fault for failing to put down ice melt and June was 80% at fault for not taking more care when walking into the store. Because June’s fault was over 50%, her final verdict is $0.

Types of Negligence Claims

The most common types of negligence claims are:

Ordinary Negligence
An individual who acts without reasonable care and in such a way that causes another to suffer injuries as “negligence.” Negligence occurs in Colorado when a person fails to act in a way that a reasonably careful person would in the same situation. When this lack of care causes a person to be injured, the victim may sue the negligent party for money damages. There’s no intent to cause harm in an ordinary negligence case. Most car accidents fall under this category.

Ordinary negligence can also occur when people fail to take action to prevent harm to others, such as in a business. In a slip and fall case, the plaintiff must prove that the business knew or should have known about a reasonable hazard, and then did nothing to clean it up or warn customers. This could mean liability for water on the floor that the business failed to either clean up or use warning signs to protect visitors.

Gross Negligence
Individuals who act unreasonably or take actions that a reasonable person would avoid that result in others' harm fall under this category. This type of negligence is a blatant disregard for others' safety, like a drunk driver causing a fatal accident, or texting while driving. This form of negligence is also called “willful and wanton” negligence.

Vicarious Negligence
Businesses can be liable for the actions or inactions of their employees when (1) that behavior causes injury to another and (2) the employee was on the clock at the time. For example, if a delivery driver causes a car accident, the company they were driving for is responsible for the driver’s negligence. Similarly, a grocery store is responsible when an employee fails to clean up a spill on the floor or put up warning signs.

Negligence Per Se
Another important aspect of a negligence case is whether the defendant violated the law. In Negligence Per Se cases, if a plaintiff demonstrates that a defendant violated the law, the court will presume this was an act of negligence. This means that the victim can then pursue recovery of damages related to their resulting injuries.

Under Colorado law, it is still possible to find contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff despite the defendant being liable. If someone claims a trip and fall injury because they twisted their ankle on stairs that were clearly in disrepair, this could constitute contributing fault on the part of the victim. The defendant could point out there was a working elevator that would take them to the same location in the building. This situation would expose the plaintiff to Colorado’s modified comparative fault rules.

Proving a Negligence Claim

To prove negligence successfully, the victim must prove four key factors when making a case for personal injury against another party.

  • Proof of the defendant’s legal responsibility to keep the plaintiff from harm.
  • Evidence that the defendant breached their legal responsibility by negligent or failed appropriate action.
  • Demonstration of how this breach led to the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Provide proof of the defendant’s ability to pay compensatory damages based on their financial ability or assets.

By establishing these factors, the injured victim will have the right to recover compensation. In slip and fall cases, for example, this could mean showing how the owner, employee, or agent of a property, should have reasonably been aware of a dangerous condition (broken tile, frayed carpet edge) and could have made repairs to avoid a hazard, but didn’t. Or, a car accident example, where someone purposely runs a red light to avoid having to stop and then hits a car making a right turn onto the roadway.

Rely on an Experienced Colorado Personal Injury Attorney to Represent Your Case

Whether it is human nature or negligence, every accident that ends in an injury will have a root cause. Whether that falls on one person/company's actions or a combination of contributing negligent factors by all involved parties, the final compensation outcome will depend on how well a plaintiff's case is represented. Learn more about how Colorado's modified comparative negligence laws may affect your injury case. Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer right away to have a confidential evaluation of the circumstances of your injuries.

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