A quick guide to caps in Colorado wrongful death cases is helpful to understand the litigation process. Colorado law imposes damages caps in Colorado wrongful death claims. Knowing these limits can help a litigant advocate for their rights. It can also help families form realistic expectations for what results could be for their case. Here is our quick guide on Colorado wrongful death caps.
Does Colorado Have Damages Caps in Wrongful Death Cases?
Yes, Colorado has damages caps in wrongful death cases. Non-economic damages are capped at $250,000 plus inflation. (With inflation, the amount today is significantly higher1). Usually, there is no limit on economic damages. There are some exceptions where the damage caps may be greater or lower such as in medical malpractice cases or when exemplary damages are appropriate. Although Colorado has a non-economic damages cap in wrongful death cases, there are exceptions based on a number of specific circumstances.
What Is the Current Non-Economic Damages Cap in a Colorado Wrongful Death Case?
The current non-economic damages cap in Colorado is $250,000, statutorily adjusted periodically. Today’s non-economic damages cap in a Colorado wrongful death case is significantly higher than the initial $250,000 amount. The State of Colorado publishes the amounts adjusted for inflation periodically. Litigants should check the Secretary of State website for updates.
Colorado Wrongful Death Caps at a Glance
Here are the essential things you should know about wrongful death caps in Colorado:
- Generally, a damages cap applies to Colorado wrongful death cases. Adjusted for inflation, the amount today is significantly higher than the initial $250,000 amount.
- If there is clear and convincing evidence that a higher amount is appropriate, the court may increase the limit.
- Exemplary damages may apply in cases of fraud, malice or willful and wanton conduct.
- Typically, exemplary damages are capped at the amount of actual damages. However, if the defendant continues their behavior willfully or wantonly or aggravates damages while the action was pending, exemplary damages may be up to three times actual damages.
- Did the victim leave a surviving spouse, child or dependent parent? If the answer is no, total damages in the case are capped at the statutory maximum.
What Are the Colorado Wrongful Death Damage Caps Laws?
The Colorado wrongful death damages caps laws are C.R.S. § 13-21-2032 and C.R.S. 13-21-102.5(3)(b)3. The laws establish damages caps and determine the specific amounts. In addition, if a claim involves medical malpractice, C.R.S. § 13-64-3024 applies to set a different limit. The Colorado Secretary of State publishes the most current amounts1.
Steps To Determine Damages Caps in Colorado Wrongful Death Cases:
1. Economic damages caps in Colorado wrongful death cases
Economic damages caps only exist in cases where there is no surviving spouse, child or dependent parent. If the cap applies, the total amount for all types of damages allowed in the case is $250,000, adjusted for inflation.
2. Non-economic damages caps in Colorado wrongful death cases
Non-economic damages caps apply to damages categories like:
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional stress
- Impairment of quality of life
The cap is $250,000, adjusted for inflation. However, if there is clear and convincing evidence that a higher amount is appropriate, the limit may be raised. If the case is a medical malpractice case, separate laws apply that impose different limits periodically adjusted for inflation.
3. Exemplary damages caps in Colorado wrongful death cases
Where the defendant acts with fraud, malice or willful or wanton misconduct, exemplary damages may be appropriate. These damages may be equal to the amount of actual damages. There are special rules on how to plead exemplary damages, and the plaintiffs must make a basic showing of the basis to amend pleadings to include exemplary damages. Courts tend to allow requests to claim exemplary damages for litigants that follow procedure.
4. Multiplied exemplary damages caps in Colorado wrongful death cases
In some circumstances, exemplary damages may be increased beyond the amount of actual damages. Multiplication is appropriate when the defendant acts continuously with willful or wanton misconduct or when the defendant knowingly further aggravates damages while the claim is pending in court. When multiplied exemplary damages are appropriate, the total amount is up to three times actual damages.
Do Colorado Wrongful Death Caps Apply per Person or per Claim?
Colorado wrongful death caps apply per claim. The $250,000 (plus inflation) non-economic damages cap is the total amount no matter how many plaintiffs are a part of the case. Based on the Colorado Supreme Court case Lanahan v. Chi Psi Fraternity, 175 P.3d 97 (2008)5, the non-economic damages cap applies on a per-claim basis. In the Lanahan v. Chi Psi Fraternity case, fraternity members hazed new members by forcing them to drink large amounts of alcohol. When the victim showed signs of severe intoxication, the fraternity members refused to call for medical services. The victim died. Survivors brought a wrongful death claim. The Lanahan court affirmed that the wrongful death damages caps apply on a per-claim basis rather than per plaintiff.
Attorneys for Damages Caps in Wrongful Death
Do you have questions about damages caps in wrongful death claims? Do you want justice for your family after the death of a loved one? Call or message our professional and compassionate attorneys for wrongful death claims. We can help you understand damages caps and explain the recovery process. Contact us today.
1 Office of the Secretary of State of the State of Colorado. Adjusted limitations for damages. Retrieved 28 January 2021 from https://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/info_center/files/damages_new.pdf
5Lanahan v. Chi Psi Fraternity, 175 P.3d 97 (2008)