The damages available in Colorado wrongful death cases are essential for loved ones left behind. Not only do they provide a measure of justice and recognition for the loss of a family member, but they also give needed relief for a family’s financial hardships and losses. Understanding the damages that you may stand to receive in a Colorado wrongful death case can help you plan for the future and know what to expect as you pursue your claim.
What Are Wrongful Death Damages?
Wrongful death damages are the compensation paid because of a death occurring due to the negligence of others. If the deceased person would have had a legal right to receive financial compensation if they had survived, their family may bring a claim. Wrongful death damages serve two purposes: They account for any losses that the victim incurs in the immediate aftermath of their injuries. Additional damages also account for the financial losses and emotional suffering sustained by loved ones because of their family member’s passing.
What Damages Are Available in Colorado Wrongful Death Cases?
Damages that are available in Colorado wrongful death cases include the following:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering, emotional anguish, grief and sorrow
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of services provided to the family by the victim
- Punitive damages (in certain circumstances)
Colorado Wrongful Death Damages vs. Survival Action Damages
Colorado divides cases into two categories: wrongful death and survival actions. The personal representative of the estate may bring a survival action. Survival actions account for the victim’s losses, like medical bills, property damages and funeral expenses. These damages are incurred after the injury and before the victim passes away. A survival action generally does not include pain and suffering. The emotional anguish of the victims is a part of the wrongful death claim. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to address the losses of the family members. These losses may be financial, like any funeral expenses or medical bills that they may have paid on behalf of the victim. But the primary losses for loved ones are personal – pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and loss of wages and services on which the family depends. A Colorado wrongful death claim allows the surviving family to claim these losses. Both a survival action and a wrongful death claim may occur concurrently in Colorado.
What Is the Colorado Law for Damages in Wrongful Death Cases?
The Colorado law for damages in wrongful death cases is the Wrongful Death Act, 13-21-201 et. seq1. The law says that when a person dies because of the negligence of others, they may bring a claim for damages. The law also states that the claim may include financial losses and emotional losses. There are several rules listed in the Colorado Wrongful Death Act, such as who may bring a claim, the time frames and damage limitations.
How To Calculate Wrongful Death Damages
To calculate wrongful death damages, add up the following:
- Expenses paid on behalf of the victim like medical bills and funeral costs
- Lost wages that loved ones depend on
- An inability to use insurance benefits
- Value of services that the deceased used to provide or would have provided
- Other expenses that may have resulted from the victim’s death
- Pain and suffering, emotional anguish, sorrow
- Loss of consortium (as an alternative to pain and suffering)
In all wrongful death cases, the pain and suffering felt by surviving family members is devastating. Our wrongful death lawyers can help you value your economic and non-economic losses appropriately, so you claim compensation for all your losses. Damage caps apply in Colorado cases.
Damages Caps in Colorado Wrongful Death Cases
Colorado law imposes caps for some types of damages in wrongful death claims. Generally, the maximum that a court can award for non-economic damages in a wrongful death case is $250,000 adjusted for inflation. With the inflation amount, the total award is significantly higher. The limit is different for a medical negligence case. Maximum amounts that can be awarded are regularly adjusted for inflation. The maximum award is for all the plaintiffs. Even if there are multiple plaintiffs, the total amount awarded can be only up to the statutory maximum per case. If there is clear and convincing evidence that a higher award is appropriate, the maximum amount may be increased. For damages caps in Colorado wrongful death cases, remember:
- There is no limit to the amount of economic damages. Your attorney can help you claim these damages as part of the appropriate survival action or wrongful death claim, depending on the specific circumstances.
- Limits apply to non-economic damages.
- Exceptions apply to limits if a higher award is clearly appropriate.
- A party may choose a flat solatium award instead of proving non-economic damages.
- Limits do not apply to cases involving a felonious killing (first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter).
Exemplary Damages in a Colorado Wrongful Death Case
The court may award exemplary damages in a wrongful death case under Colorado law 13-21-2032 upon a showing of fraud, malice, or willful or wanton conduct. The maximum amount of exemplary damages that the court can award is three times actual damages. Examples of egregious conduct that may warrant an increase include repeated misconduct or behavior that aggravates the plaintiffs’ damages while the action is pending.
How To Prove Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
To prove damages in a wrongful death claim, evaluate the categories of damages to see what applies. Then, gather records to support the facts. For example, if lost income is a part of the claim, pay stubs can document earnings. Medical records and bills can document expenses for care. Receipts for funeral services can show these costs. Despite having financial records, there is an element to any wrongful death case that is very personal. Documenting damages in a wrongful death claim means showing the relationships involved and how loved ones depended on their family member. Explaining losses can be extremely painful and personal. An experienced attorney can help you handle these sensitive issues compassionately and appropriately.
Attorneys for Colorado Wrongful Death Damages
If you have questions about damages in wrongful death claims, contact our Colorado attorneys. Let our team evaluate the compensation that may be available to you. Our team can explain what’s involved in bringing a claim and how we can help you pursue justice for your family.
1 Giometti, Gregory R. (September 2010). Handbook of Colorado Wrongful Death Law. Retreived 29 January 2020 from http://cle.cobar.org/tableofcontents/ZWDLHC02B.pdf
2 C.R.S. 13-21-203