Coping with a wrongful death is a deeply personal and tragic event. Your grief can seem overwhelming, making it feel impossible to tackle even the smallest of everyday matters, such as getting dressed or cooking meals.
Since routine tasks are challenging, it’s understandable if you’re uncertain about your legal options after losing a loved one to a wrongful death. You may not realize you can file a wrongful death suit, and you may wonder whether you qualify to file a lawsuit and who pays the settlement. Let’s consider what you need to know about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado.
How does Colorado law define “wrongful death”?
Wrongful deaths are deaths occurring under specific conditions. The death must result from a person’s negligence or wrongful action to qualify as a wrongful death. It’s also considered wrongful death if a party fails to fulfill a legal obligation toward another, and that failure causes the person’s death.
Negligence refers to a party’s failure to act as most people would. Society operates on laws and behavioral expectations. If most people would act a specific way under certain circumstances, failing to act that way is negligence. For example, it’s reasonable to expect most people to obey traffic laws. If a person’s texting while driving, they aren’t behaving as most people would. In that case, if their actions cause an accident that leads to a person’s death, they may be considered negligent.
Wrongful actions include criminal acts, such as assault. It can also include errors from professionals providing services. Suppose your loved one went to the hospital for a surgical procedure. The surgeon who operated on your loved one didn’t use antiseptic agents when cleaning before the surgery. Consequently, your loved one got an infection and died. This is an example of a professional failing to provide the expected standard of care.
Failing to fulfill a legal obligation is known as defaulting on an obligation. Suppose your loved one wants to buy a used vehicle, but it has faulty brakes. Your loved one and the seller create a contract requiring the seller to replace the brakes before you take ownership. The seller later assures your loved one that they replaced the brakes, so your loved one completes the sale and drives away. The brakes fail, and your loved one dies. This is an example of a party’s failure to fulfill a contractual obligation resulting in a wrongful death.
Who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado?
Colorado allows the decedent’s spouse to file a wrongful death suit immediately. If a spouse and children survive the decedent, their spouse can also allow the children to file suit. Without permission from the spouse, the decedent’s children must wait 12 months before they can file a lawsuit.
The decedent’s children or designated beneficiary can file a lawsuit immediately if the decedent has no surviving spouse. The decedent’s parents can file suit if the decedent dies without a surviving spouse, children, or beneficiary.
What must be proven to win a wrongful death lawsuit?
Proving a wrongful death case begins with establishing the at-fault party’s negligence, default, or wrongful actions. Proving negligence, for example, establishes the at-fault party is responsible for inappropriate actions.
Wrongful death lawyers must also demonstrate that a person died because of the actions or inactions of the at-fault party. This is referred to as causation; it establishes that the decedent would still be alive if not for the at-fault party’s conduct.
Winning a wrongful death suit also involves proving people have suffered financial and personal losses from the decedent’s death.
What damages can be recovered in a Colorado wrongful death case?
You can seek two types of damages from a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado. These damages are the standard damages sought in every personal injury case. Economic damages cover incurred expenses and anticipated costs. In contrast, non-economic damages compensate for the personal impact of the decedent’s passing on your life.
Economic damages can include compensation for multiple expenses, including the following:
- Burial expenses
- Funeral costs
- Lost income
- Medical bills
- Property repairs
Non-economic damages recognize how the decedent’s death has affected you personally and emotionally. Things you can seek compensation for include the following:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of intimacy
- Pain and suffering
In some cases, defendants offer a settlement to avoid a higher judgment if the case goes before a jury. Other defendants refuse to settle out of court, forcing the case to trial.
Colorado allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages under certain circumstances. The at-fault party must be guilty of gross negligence. For example, suppose a person was texting while driving. They cause an accident that results in someone’s death. In that case, it can be argued they’re guilty of gross negligence because they deliberately broke the law.
Is there a cap on damages that can be recovered?
Colorado does cap the damages plaintiffs can receive for some types of compensation. For example, plaintiffs will receive no more than $250,000 plus inflation for non-economic damages.
In most cases, there’s no cap on the amount of economic damages a plaintiff can seek. However, if the decedent has no surviving family member who qualifies to file suit, damages are capped at $250,000.
Punitive damages usually don’t exceed the amount of economic and non-economic damages awarded unless circumstances justify a higher judgment.
Is there a statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits?
Colorado gives plaintiffs two years to file a wrongful death suit. However, if the decedent died in a hit-and-run accident, plaintiffs have twice as long to take legal action. Once the statute of limitations expires, the decedent’s surviving family members can’t file a lawsuit.
Who will receive the compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit?
The party who files the wrongful death lawsuit receives the compensation. This is why Colorado’s statutes limit filing to immediate family members, beginning with the decedent’s spouse and children. Immediate family members are the ones who’ll typically incur the expenses related to the decedent’s passing.
How our wrongful death lawyers can help
Experienced wrongful death attorneys understand the trauma of losing a loved one. At Bachus & Schanker, our Victim Advocates help our clients cope with personal and financial matters after losing a loved one. Our team also investigates wrongful death cases to ensure we prepare a compelling case justifying your claim for damages.
Gillespie, J. (2023). Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Colorado.