You may notice as of January 1, 2019, that more cases will be filed in County Court rather than District Court. This is because Senate Bill 18-056, signed into law in May, 2018, increases the County Court jurisdictional limit to $25,000 from $15,000.
As a result, there is likely to be an increase in County Court cases involving minor traffic accidents, property damage, and most likely, subrogation matters coming your way. This will significantly limit discovery available to the parties in these matters, and compel the parties to reach trial or settlement more quickly. Below are some quick reminders about the unique aspects of County Court that should help you to manage this new influx of cases efficiently, and determine when to retain counsel.
• Representation: Pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-1-127, corporations must be represented by counsel in all courts of record (with the exception of Small Claims Court) unless the entity is a closely held corporation with three or fewer owners and the amount at issue excluding costs, fees, and interest is less than $15,000. However, we strongly advise retaining representation even for a closely held corporation insured in all County Court matters.
• Answers: In County Court, answers are due on or before the appointed “Return Date” as indicated on the summons and complaint. The benefit to answering prior to the return date is that your counsel will not have to appear in person on the return date.
• Additional Parties/Non-Parties: Counter and Cross Claims are permitted in County Court, and the non-party designation statute, Colo. Rev. Stat § 13-21-111.5 applies as well. Non-parties must be designated within 90 days from the commencement of the action. The joinder of additional parties is also permitted pursuant to County Court Rules 313(f), 318, 319 and 320.
• Disclosures: Disclosures in County Court are not required unless one of the parties requests they be made no later than 21 days before trial. Any disclosures made must be provided no later than 7 days before trial. County Court disclosures are limited to a list of witnesses who may be called at trial, and copies of documents, pictures, and descriptions of physical evidence that may be used at trial. Supplementation of disclosures is only permitted upon a showing of good cause.
• Discovery: Discovery is permitted in County Court only by court order, and the amount and type of discovery allowed will be at the discretion of the judge.
• Alternative Dispute Resolution/Mediation: Most County Court judges require mediation, either through a court affiliated mediator or independent mediation service such as JAG or JAMS. If the facts warrant it, early informal negotiations amongst counsel may save costs, and lead to an early resolution of the matter entirely.
• Motions: In County Court, only a complaint and answer are permitted. No other motions are allowed without the permission of the court.
• Evidence: Unlike in Small Claims Court, the formal Colorado Rules of Evidence apply in County Court trials.
• Trials: Trials may be held by jury or by the court. The party requesting a jury trial must make a jury demand and pay the requisite fee.
If you’d like to discuss this rule change and its effect on your litigation files, please don’t hesitate to contact me.