Colorado is an at-fault state. But what does that mean? And how does that affect you?
The difference between an at fault state and no fault state
In an at fault, or tort based, system, a driver injured in a car accident can file a claim with the at fault driver’s insurance company. In these states, it is the responsibility of whoever caused the accident, or their automobile insurance, to pay for damages occurring in the accident. How to determine who caused the accident varies from state to state.
However, in no fault systems, a driver does not need to prove another driver’s fault in order to be repaid for medical costs resulting from the accident. In no fault systems, drivers are required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. Upon the occurrence of an accident, no matter who is at fault, each driver’s PIP insurance kicks in and covers the cost of medical expenses. Keep in mind that PIP insurance does not cover the damage to property – like the car or motorcycle involved in the accident – so drivers often pay for additional insurance coverage in order to be covered for costs beyond medical bills. Because liability for the damage to property is fault based, liability insurance coverage is recommended in addition to the required PIP. At fault drivers without liability insurance would be responsible for paying for property damages out of their own pocket instead of having the ability to put in a claim to their insurance.
Colorado is an at fault state that employs a comparative negligence system. In Colorado and other at fault states, the driver responsible for the accident is liable for costs occurring from the accident. While this system sounds more fair, it is often difficult to discern who caused an accident, especially when the driver at fault still denies causing the accident. Counter claims and other disputes can clog the legal system and are often costly and time consuming.
There are two types of comparative negligence systems: (1) pure comparative negligence and (2) modified comparative negligence. In a pure comparative negligence system, each person’s recovery amount is reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if someone is determined to be 60% responsible for an accident where they suffered $50,000 in damages, the driver would only be entitled to receive a judgment of 40% of the $50,000 ($20,000).
Colorado employs the modified comparative negligence system. The amount of compensation due for the accident is still proportionate to how responsible the driver is for the accident. But, if the driver is 50% or more responsible for the accident, they lose the ability to receive any compensation for damages incurred in the accident.
For example, if an accident occurs that causes $50,000 in damages, but you are deemed 10% responsible for an accident, you would only be entitled to $45,000 in compensation. But, if you are deemed 51% responsible for the accident, you would not be entitled to any compensation from the other driver or the driver’s insurance.
Because the other party will generally not hesitate to point fingers, it may be helpful to speak to an experienced lawyer after an accident in order to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.