Understanding the Statute of Limitations and Your Personal Injury Case in Denver, CO
The statute of limitations has the ability to permanently destroy your personal injury claim if you wait too long to initiate your case. It sets the deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit over your claim or forfeit your right to recover damages.
You may be barred from recovering damages entirely if you don’t file your lawsuit by the applicable deadline. Without the leverage of a lawsuit to motivate the defendant to settle, your claim is unlikely to succeed.
The Purpose of the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations encourages people to file their claims promptly. Old claims are difficult to prove–witness’s memories fade, physical evidence gets lost, photographs get deleted, etc. The likelihood of an unfair outcome is drastically higher with an old claim.
The statute of limitations relieves defendants from the cloud of litigation hanging over them. Without it, you could hold the credible threat of a lawsuit against a defendant for their entire lifetime.
Courts are already overcrowded, and eliminating the statute of limitations deadline would render the situation even worse than it already is.
Whether through litigation or settlement, the statute of limitations provides a sense of certainty for claimants who know how much time they have to act.
The statute of limitations places a practical limitation on settlement as well as litigation. It is possible to settle a claim even after the statute of limitations deadline has expired. However, there is no real reason for the defendant to bother negotiating without the credible threat of a lawsuit. Once the statute of limitations expires, the claimant has lost all bargaining power.
Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases
Statutes of limitations vary from state to state. In Colorado, the personal injury statute of limitations deadline is normally two years after the date of the accident or incident that produced the injury you are complaining of. In automobile cases (including car accidents), the deadline is three years.
The Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
If the victim of a personal injury dies from their injuries, certain qualifying family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The wrongful death statute of limitations is two years. The statute of limitations begins running on the state that the victim died, not the date of the accident.
Remember, the longer the gap between the date of the accident and the victim’s date of death, the harder it may be to prove that the accident is what caused the victim’s death. A seasoned Denver personal injury lawyer can advocate for your family’s best interest during this challenging time.
Circumstances That ‘Toll’ the Statute of Limitations Deadline
If something happens to ‘toll’ the statute of limitations, the clock will stop temporarily, only to resume later. In this way, you might have more than two, three, or four years to file your claim.
Circumstances that may toll the statute of limitations deadline include:
- The claimant can’t file a lawsuit because they are under 18 years old;
- The claimant can’t file a lawsuit because they are mentally or medically incompetent to file a lawsuit (in a coma, for example);
- The victim reasonably failed to discover their injury at the time it happened (a surgeon accidentally left a scalpel inside the patient’s body, for example);
- The defendant is in prison;
- The victim is on military duty;
- The defendant has left the state (any period spent outside of Colorado can toll the statute of limitations for that period);
- The defendant’s whereabouts are unknown, and they, therefore cannot be notified of the lawsuit; and
- The defendant fraudulently concealed information (a doctor falsified medical records to conceal malpractice, for example). In such cases, the tolling period ends when the claimant discovers the truth or reasonably should have discovered it.
The removal of the disability that justified tolling the statute of limitations deadline results in the end of the tolling period. That means the countdown of the statute of limitation clock will resume.
The Statute of Repose
You can sometimes toll the statute of limitation. You cannot toll a statute of repose, however–it is an ultimate deadline.
The following statutes of repose apply to many personal injury cases:
- Six years for injuries caused by a construction defect;
- 10 years for injuries caused by product liability (non-manufacturing products); and
- Three years for malpractice, except in cases of fraudulent concealment, foreign objects being left inside the patient’s body, or inability to discover the malpractice through reasonable diligence.
Do whatever you can to avoid running up against a statute of repose deadline as you could lose your ability to pursue compensation effectively.
Suing the Government
Special administrative deadlines apply to suing the government. If you sue the state of Colorado, for example, you have a filing deadline that expires 180 days after the date of the accident. If you sue the federal government, you typically must file a claim within two years of the injury.
Contact a Denver Personal Injury Lawyer to Learn About the Deadline in Your Case
Don’t delay getting the help you need after an accident in Denver, Colorado. Zaner Harden Law will work with you to ensure your case is filed on time or determine if an exception applies to the statute of limitations. Contact us today at (720) 613-9706 to schedule a free consultation with our Denver personal injury attorney.