Unintentional Torts Explained
In legal speak, a “tort” is an action that causes harm and for which there can be legal consequences. There are intentional torts which can involve criminal charges, like assault or battery. But there are unintentional torts as well, which usually involve some degree of negligence. For most crimes that are processed through the criminal justice system, there is a corresponding tort that can be litigated through the civil court system. For example, murder is a crime against society that the government will prosecute through the criminal court system. Wrongful death is a tort for which injured parties can seek compensation through the civil court system. There is no threat of jail in the civil court system. Instead the injured party (plaintiff) sues the defendant for monetary compensation.
What is General Negligence?
Negligence happens when a person takes careless actions or fails to take reasonable care to prevent the injury of another. Negligence is intertwined with most types of personal injury cases including car crashes, premises liability, medical malpractice, defective products, and negligent security. Colorado maintains a reasonable person standard for negligence, which means that when someone fails to behave in a way that a reasonable person would behave under the circumstances, and their action or inaction causes harm, then negligence can be claimed.
HOW TO WIN A NEGLIGENCE CLAIM
There are four elements that a Colorado attorney must prove exist for a negligence claim to be successful. Those elements are:
- Duty: The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff.
- Breach: The defendant breached that duty of care.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach caused foreseeable danger and injury to the plaintiff.
- Damages: The plaintiff suffered damages.
In Colorado, whether a “duty of care” is owed can be determined by researching statutes or court decisions, but it usually comes down to common sense. For example, drivers have a duty to drive carefully so that they do not injure others. Builders have a duty to create safe structures. Hotels have a duty to keep guests safe from intruders. In general, the higher the risk an activity involves, the greater the duty of care to affected persons.
WHERE ARE NEGLIGENCE CASES LITIGATED?
While there may be criminal charges related to a negligence case, most negligence claims are litigated in civil court. The injured party (plaintiff) sues the defendant for monetary compensation, which usually comes from a car, property or umbrella insurance policy, or personal assets. Negligence can cause serious injuries or even death, but if a defendant has no insurance or assets with which to compensate the injured plaintiff, then there may be nothing to recover. Unfortunately, in that case the defendant may be deemed “judgment proof.”
Colorado Laws on General Negligence
DIFFERENT DEGREES OF NEGLIGENCE
Colorado recognizes different degrees of negligence including gross negligence, vicarious negligence, and comparative negligence. Briefly, these are:
- Gross Negligence: When a person willfully shows a complete disregard for another person’s safety. Gross negligence can sometimes incur criminal penalties.
- Vicarious Negligence: When a party is responsible for the negligence of another, like an employer being responsible for the negligent conduct of an employee.
- Comparative Negligence: When an individual’s own negligence is partly responsible for their injuries. In Colorado, as long as a party is 49% or less responsible for their injuries, they may still receive a degree of compensation.
The concept of comparative negligence spare juries from having to make “all or nothing” decisions. If a jury believes that a plaintiff is 10% responsible for their own injuries, then the monetary award can be reduced by 10%.
VICTIM COMPENSATION FOR NEGLIGENCE
Victims who suffer injuries due to the negligence of others may be entitled to compensation including:
- Economic damages: Past and future medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity
- Noneconomic damages: Pain and suffering, mental anguish, impairment. Noneconomic damages in Colorado are capped.
- Physical Impairment: Compensation for permanent injuries or scarring
- Exemplary damages: Punitive damages intended to punish a negligent party in circumstances of malice, fraud, or other intentional conduct. These damages are limited to certain types of cases.
Injured by Another Party’s Negligence?
CALL A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
Accidents happen. Everyone makes mistakes. That is why our society insists that people carry insurance policies. Unintentional torts may be accidental, but they still cause costly harm. The Denver personal injury attorneys at Shafner Law have decades of experience recovering maximum compensation for victims of negligence. If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, we will honestly and fairly evaluate your case.
For a free consultation, call Shafner Law at (303) 796-0555 or fill out the Case Form below.
Additional Negligence Resources