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Punitive Damages in Colorado Personal Injury Cases Explained

Posted by Michael P. Kane | Jun 07, 2024 | 0 Comments

In addition to normal damages (see here for our post on the types) allowed to all claimants in Colorado, plaintiffs can potentially recover punitive damages (called "exemplary damages") in their personal injury case. While punitive damages won't apply in a lot of car accident cases, there are certain scenarios where your lawyer can seek them on your behalf.

What are punitive damages? Unlike compensatory damages, a jury in a personal injury trial can award punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer and send a message. And while the amount of punitive damages normally cannot exceed the amount of actual damages (although a judge can allow a higher punitive damages award after the trial), they can serve as a powerful tool in your case. Punitive damages claims are not automatic; they can only be allowed after the judge grants a motion to add exemplary damages after discovery (depositions etc.) has started. 

When do punitive damages apply? According to C.R.S. 13-21-102, a jury can award exemplary damages for an injury caused by willful and wanton conduct. Willful and wanton conduct means "conduct purposefully committed which the actor must have realized as dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the plaintiff." In other words, if someone does something they know is dangerous or reckless and hurts someone as a result, a punitive damages claim may apply. 

What are some examples of "willful and wanton" conduct? In our experience, the most common example of willful and wanton conduct in Colorado car accident cases is drunk driving. Other examples include: distracted driving (i.e. texting); excessive speed; road rage; and falling asleep at the wheel when the driver knew they were too tired to drive. 

An experienced personal injury attorney will know what to investigate to determine whether a punitive damages claim is appropriate in your case and take the necessary steps to pursue your rights in court. If you were hurt and have any questions about whether the at fault driver could be liable for exemplary damages, please contact Kane Trial Law in Castle Rock at 303-919-7777. 

About the Author

Michael P. Kane

Mike Kane is a Colorado personal injury attorney specializing in car accidents, truck accidents and catastrophic personal injury litigation. He also represents victims of sexual assault against institutions and individuals. Mr. Kane, a third-generation lawyer and Colorado native, is a former US Marine who served a tour in support of Operation I...


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