I want to talk a little bit about caps in the State of Colorado. It’s likely that many, if not most, of you don’t know anything about Colorado’s caps on damages unless you have been exposed to them after being seriously injured, so please, let me explain because it’s important to Colorado citizen’s to know how their rights are being limited.
What are “Caps”?
In simple terms, caps are laws passed by the legislature which act as an artificial limitation of what a jury or judge can decide is fair compensation for injuries caused because of someone else’s negligence. I know, that’s probably not horribly clear, so let me see if I can simplify this by giving an example: A person gets into a car wreck because someone was changing the radio station, or maybe checking out some business on the side of the road, or checking their makeup in the rear view mirror, or some other lapse in attention (you get the idea). Because of the collision the person who got hit ends up with significant injuries which he or she doesn’t ever heal completely from and treatment lasts for years until one day their doctors tell the injured person that there isn’t anything more that can be done, even though the injured party has never gotten back to the person or life they had before the wreck. In a scenario like this, it isn’t unusual for injuries to be moderately to severely painful either constantly or regularly, and people often have to miss out on a lot of the little things in life such as playing with their kids, seeing their kids play sports, going to dinner with friends or family, etc., just because they feel too crappy to be able to socialize; or they may be able to participate on a limited basis, but have to leave early because the pain and discomfort is becoming unbearable.
What would you say a life of pain like that is worth? In the State of Colorado, up until 2020, the maximum that a judge or jury could provide in compensation for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of quality of life and inconvenience (collectively called non-economic damages) is currently $642,180. This amount could be increased up to a MAXIMUM of $1,284,370 if a judge determines that doubling the cap is appropriate under the statute which is not easy. You can guess how often that happens (I’ve never seen it happen, though I’m sure it has). If you look at my prior blogs you will see that I have talked quite a bit about damages and what a person can be compensated for, but for ease of the reader, here are links to those blogs: “Damages: What Compensation Are You Entitled to After a Car Accident?” & “Non Economic Damages: Pain & Suffering“. As you can see, one entire category of damages consists of pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of quality of life and inconvenience. Let’s take this a little further. Let’s say that the injured party is 30 years old with an expected life span of another 49.28 years (for males) according to the 2020 U.S. Census. When you break down the maximum he can receive by year, it averages out to compensation in the amount of about $13,000 per year, or a little over $1,000 per month for that ongoing pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of quality of life and inconvenience.
Judges are Required to Reduce
And it doesn’t matter if a judge or jury makes the determination that the injured party should receive millions to compensate them for their losses. If a jury came back with a verdict indicating non-economic damages of $20 million, the judge would be required to reduce that jury decision to $642,180. Even if the injured party was able to convince the judge to double the cap, they are still only looking at a maximum of $1,284,370 (so $2,000 per month for the rest of one’s life).
You May Have a Chance to Vote on This Soon
If you don’t think this is fair, you aren’t alone. I belong to a group called the Colorado Trial Lawyer’s Association and as a group we are currently working to take this question to the People of the State of Colorado to decide, hopefully in 2024. I’m hoping to start educating our citizens on this issue so that they can ignore what is sure to be an onslaught by the insurance companies (who lobbied for and were successful in getting the caps put in place to begin with) with television ads and warnings to voters that their insurance rates may go up if the caps are eliminated. I’m hoping that if enough of us understand this issue, the insurance companies will have no impact upon voters because one thing I can tell you is that it is not a pleasant look on the face of an injured person when you tell them that you understand that they have sustained life long injuries and are never going to be the same, but the State of Colorado only considers their pain to be worth $642,180. Every time that happens our clients look at us and ask, how could that be? Unfortunately, at this time, our only answer is that they have to go and talk to their legislators. However, with a ballot measure we can let the citizens decide, so stay tuned!