Car accidents are an unfortunate and disruptive part of life on the road. No matter how responsible and safe of a driver you are, even when you follow driving laws, crashes can and do happen. After an accident, you may wonder, who pays for medical and other financial damages in a car accident in Colorado? Unfortunately, there is no one answer, as it depends on your unique situation. However, knowledge is power, and educating yourself about Colorado laws regarding car accidents may save you money, time, and headache.
Is Colorado a “No-Fault” or “At-Fault” State?
One of the drivers’ first thoughts about car accidents is whether the state of Colorado has a no-fault or at-fault policy regarding crashes. Colorado is an at-fault insurance state. This means whoever is responsible for the accident will be liable to pay for the medical treatment costs and other financial damages.
With Colorado being an at-fault state, all drivers must have a certain amount of car insurance. Therefore, there are minimum amounts of car insurance required. However, drivers may have more liability coverage than the amounts stated below, but not less.
The minimum required amounts are as follows:
- $50,000 total for bodily injury/death in a single accident.
- $15,000 property damage for a single accident
- $25,000 in bodily injury or death for each person
Who Determines Which Party Is Legally Responsible for an Auto Accident in Colorado?
Colorado law determines who is at fault in a car accident through comparative negligence. With comparative negligence, you can seek compensation for your medical bills and losses if you are less than 50% responsible for a car accident. In certain situations, it is obvious who is at fault in a car accident. In Colorado, an accident where liability is clear is called a ‘no doubt liability’ accident. Here are a few examples of a ‘no doubt liability’ accidents:
- Rear-end accidents
- Running a red light
- Backing up accidents
- Accidents under the influence of alcohol or drugs
How you get compensation for your medical bills and damaged property depends on the details of your accident. While the other party can argue negligence in some car accidents, there are various straightforward ways to determine who is at fault and responsible for an auto accident in Colorado:
- Requesting a Police report
- Collecting witness information
- Reconstructing the accident
- Taking photographs and videos
What Options Do I Have if the At-Fault Driver Is Underinsured or Uninsured in Colorado?
Some Colorado insurance companies offer medical payment coverage or “med-pay.” If you are insured with this type of coverage, you can get up to $5,000 in protection for medical bills you incurred due to accident injuries. The fault will not be relevant if you choose to use med-pay. In addition, anyone injured in another person’s vehicle can combine their” med-pay” coverage with the other policyholder’s “med-pay,” potentially doubling the funds available to pay initial medical expenses.
By law, car insurance companies in Colorado have to offer Med Pay insurance. However, you can opt-out of it in your car insurance policy. This makes one fall into the category of uninsured or underinsured.
If the at-fault driver has insufficient coverage, you can file a claim through your policy’s uninsured/underinsured (UI/UIM) motorist coverage. You are still covered if the responsible driver does not have sufficient car insurance.
Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist Coverage in Colorado
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), Colorado ranks 13th in the nation for uninsured motorists. Despite the legal necessity to have it, Colorado’s thriving economy, and insurance premiums below the national average, many drivers don’t have insurance or are underinsured. Moreover, Colorado citizens have higher average incomes than other states. Yet, the state still ranks high for uninsured motorists.
Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage is meant to help cover medical bills and damages when you get into an accident with a driver without insurance or sufficient insurance.
While UM/UIM motorist coverage is optional, all providers must offer it. So, when you purchase a new car or motorcycle, your insurance carrier will offer the option to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. If you choose not to add UM/UIM coverage to your policy, you must provide a written statement that you don’t want it.
If you choose to purchase UM/UIM, it will cover you and all of your passengers in the event of an accident. So, it acts as a “replacement” insurance for the at-fault driver’s lack of coverage. It will pay for your damages the same way the at-fault driver’s insurance would if they had it. UM and UIM also cover a pedestrian who an uninsured or underinsured driver hits. Lastly, UM/UIM should match an insurance policy’s legal minimum liability coverage for bodily injury.
Stacking Underinsured or Uninsured Motorist Coverage
“Stacking’ is combining policies and is allowed in Colorado. For example, suppose you pay three separate premiums for three different vehicles. In that case, you can “stack” them. insurance companies used to include “anti-stacking” language in the fine print to prevent policyholders from simultaneously using multiple coverages. However, since Colorado enacted the new laws, stacking is a more accessible and effective option for injured drivers.
Insurance companies cannot offset or reduce the amount of UM/UIM coverage offered due to the amount of liability coverage. So, for example, imagine you get into an accident, and the other party is at fault. Your damages total $300,000, but the at-fault driver’s policy only covers $25,000 in bodily injuries. You can use your UM/UIM insurance to cover the difference. Previously, insurance companies were allowed to offset your UM/UIM amount by the amount covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance. In this example, that would mean reducing your UM/UIM coverage by $25,000. Now, however, insurance companies cannot offset, allowing UM/UIM carriers to get full coverage from each of their plans and fully recover for damages.
Which Insurance Will Pay for the Medical Bills First When a Person Was Injured in an Automobile Accident?
A lot of people in Colorado choose to file a claim with their own insurance company first. This often is the quickest and easiest way. Your insurance company will cover medical expenses and then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurer. This entitles them to place a lien against any personal injury settlement. In this case, your health insurance company will look to the at-fault party’s insurance to be reimbursed for their costs.
Other ways to have your medical bills paid are:
- Filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance;
- Filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
If you run into problems with any of the above, there is an alternative way to pay your medical bills. You can use these options until your claim has been settled.
For example, companies and private providers in Colorado offer care or treatment on a medical lien. They agree to finance your health care expenses after a car accident, placing a lien against any compensation you get from your personal injury settlement or recovery.
How Is the At-Fault Party Held Accountable for My Injuries?
Even if you filed a claim with your insurance company first and have taken care of your medical bills, the at-fault party is still accountable for your medical costs. This will either be done through the:
- a settlement agreement through the at-fault party’s insurance company
- or a civil lawsuit against the insurance company or the individual
Most individuals have little to no experience dealing with large insurance companies. Therefore, it is difficult to know what your settlement is truly worth. Insurance companies are notorious for offering quick, low settlements. In addition, their initial offers are almost always less than the fair amount to which most injury victims are entitled. Therefore, it is tough to negotiate a fair personal injury settlement when it is your first time or if you are doing so without legal counsel. And, once you accept a settlement, you can not make a future claim. This is why it is strongly advisable to get the assistance of a Colorado personal injury attorney to work on your behalf.
How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injury and Damages in Colorado?
The statute of limitations determines how long after a car accident one must file a claim for injuries and damages. The standard statute of limitations for car accidents in Colorado is three years. Generally speaking, the statute of limitations is firm. However, there are exceptions where you can bring a claim after the standard 3-year time limit.
The state of Colorado recognizes the “discovery of harm” exception to the standard statute of limitations in personal injury cases. Sometimes, it is impossible to know the causes of the injury or even that the injury happened later. They are not ruling out that the defendant’s actions may have caused the injury.
The “discovery of harm” rule allows victims to file claims within a timeframe from when the injury was discovered. Note that the “discovery of harm” rule doesn’t apply to all civil injuries, and the period you can bring a claim “post-discovery” can be pretty short in many cases.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer in Denver, Colorado
Sometimes it needs to be clarified which party you can hold accountable to seek compensation for your injuries after a car accident. In that case, your best option is to seek the legal guidance of a skilled attorney.
If you’ve been involved or injured in a car accident in Colorado, contact our licensed Denver car accident attorneys for a free consultation.
With a proven track record, impressive financial resources, an esteemed legal reputation, and a compassionate approach, we are Denver’s top personal injury lawyers for good reasons. And we will fight hard to get you the money you deserve.