Punitive Damages in Colorado


If you have been injured in an accident caused by another person’s negligent or reckless actions in Colorado, you are entitled to both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages cover out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, etc.), while non-economic damages cover intangible losses (e.g., pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.). 

However, Colorado civil courts may award injured victims with “punitive” or “exemplary” damages, particularly if the defendants acted in an egregious or outrageous manner. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for such conduct and deter similar behavior in the future. 

In order to receive punitive or exemplary damages in Colorado, you must prove that your case involves one of the following factors: 

  • Fraud – The defendant tricked or otherwise deceived the victim. 

  • Malice – The defendant intentionally or attempted to intentionally cause harm to the victim. 

  • Willful or wanton conduct – The defendant acted with a reckless disregard for the health and safety of others, although he/she knew about the potential danger his/her conduct poses. 

Keep in mind, plaintiffs in Colorado are not allowed to claim punitive damages in the initial complaint. Instead, the court must determine if there is evidence—through the discovery phase—that the plaintiff is eligible for punitive damages and properly instruct the jury to award those type of damages. 

In order to establish the right to punitive damages, the victim must show proof of a “triable issue.” This means there is enough evidence to claim punitive damages. 

Common types of evidence the court and jury consider when determining exemplary damages: 

  • The cause of the accident 

  • The defendant’s purposeful actions 

  • Whether intoxication is a factor 

  • Whether a separate criminal offense was committed 

  • The history between the plaintiff and defendant (in order to prove malice) 

  • If the defendant was aware of his/her actions 

There is a cap on punitive damages in Colorado. The award cannot exceed the amount of “actual damages.” For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages, then he/she can recover up to an additional $100,000 in punitive damages. 

However, the court may increase exemplary damages to up to three times the amount of actual damages if one of the two following situations is true: 

  • The defendant has either continued acting in a willful and wanton manner or repeated the action either against the plaintiff or someone else, during the course of the case. 

  • The defendant has acted in a willful or wanton manner and further aggravated the damages of the plaintiff and he/she knew or should’ve known that such action would result in aggravation. 

If you have been injured in an accident caused by negligence in Arapahoe County, call the Law Office of Joseph A. Lazzara, P.C. at (720) 809-8262 or fill out our online contact form today to request a free consultation. Over 25 years of trial-tested experience!