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Wrongful Death

Wrongful Death - Law 101

Hello, I'm attorney Kyle Bachus. The legal world is full of overly complicated jargon and terminology that can be intimidating if you don't know what it means. In my law 101 video series, I'm breaking down some commonly used legal terms so you can be informed and confident should you ever need to take legal action.

In this episode of law 101, we're going to break down the legal phrase wrongful death.

What does it mean? And why is it different than a negligence claim? Well, believe it or not, this goes all the way back to the founding of our country, and most of our laws are laws regarding torts or negligence came over from Old England. Well, at the time that these laws were inherited by the United States as we formed as a country, believe it or not, there was no common law, English right to recover if you were killed by somebody acting unreasonably.

There were claims for negligence if you were harmed, but there was an absence of an ability to make a claim if you were killed. As a result of that, every single state of the United States, as they were formed, had to create special statutes to address this hole in what was really a hole in the Old English common law that created the entire negligence doctrine in the United States. And so every state has a statute, and it's called a wrongful death statute. And these statutes all, maybe different, have different requirements, but they define in a particular state what elements you must demonstrate in order to make a recovery if somebody's unreasonable conduct results in death rather than an injury.

What category of death would qualify to bring a wrongful death claim? First of all, we are not talking about a criminal case. We are talking about a civil case for money damages when we talk about wrongful death. And you should know that what we're really talking about is any claim that meets the requirements of negligence, right? Where somebody had a duty, they breached that duty, and they caused the death.

The ability to recover, the amount that can be recovered. The categories of damages that can be recovered are all dictated by the examination of the state's wrongful death statute, and not by the other principles of general negligence that might have been covered in other videos that we've made in this series. If you have questions about a wrongful death, a death that resulted by negligence, you're going to need to speak to a lawyer because these become very technical claims that are dependent on the choice of law and by the specific statute applicable to that particular death.

At Bachus & Schanker, we're happy to answer those questions should you have them. To learn more about other law topics that can help you feel informed and confident about the law, make sure to check out more videos in this series.

Colorado Wrongful Death Claims - FAQs

What is the statute of limitations for wrongful death in Colorado?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death in Colorado is two years. Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-2011 creates a two-year time limit for qualified participants to file a claim.

Who can file a wrongful death claim in Colorado?

A surviving spouse and children may join a claim after losing a family member. If there is no surviving spouse or children, then a parent may bring the legal action.

Aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews are not eligible to join a wrongful death claim in Colorado. The estate may bring a survivor’s action. If these individuals are beneficiaries of the estate, they may receive these proceeds indirectly through the survival action.

Can interested parties bring separate wrongful death claims in Colorado?

There can be only one wrongful death claim in Colorado. One party brings the case on behalf of everyone eligible whether they formally join the claim or not. The spouse is the only one that may file in the first year. In the second year, if the spouse still hasn’t filed, then the children may file. All the parties join and resolve the case through one claim.

How can one file a wrongful death claim?

To file a claim, you file a summons and complaint in the court with jurisdiction to hear the case. There is a filing fee and there may be other paperwork like a civil case cover sheet. The complaint identifies the parties, summarizes the events leading to the accident, and states a demand for compensation.

What’s involved in being part of a wrongful death lawsuit?

Being part of a wrongful death lawsuit means alleging that another party is responsible for the accident and the victim’s death. The party bringing the case must gather proof of every element of their claim – that the other party is legally responsible for causing a death and that the victims have damages that the defendant should pay. There may be several legal steps, including court appearances, discovery, settlement negotiations, and trial.

How can a wrongful death lawyer help me?

A wrongful death lawyer is a specially trained professional to help the plaintiffs handle the steps to make their claim a success. The steps involved may seem overwhelming, but with the help of an experienced lawyer, they don’t have to be. An attorney can help you evaluate the strength of your case to determine if you qualify to bring a claim and what to expect in the claims process.

Can I sue the hospital for the death of a loved one?

A wrongful death claim that occurs in the hospital may be based on medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. If the accident was due to negligence, the hospital may be named as a defendant in the case.

Who pays for a wrongful death lawsuit?

At Bachus & Schanker, our Elite Litigation Group provides expert representation to individuals and families pursuing justice after the loss of a loved one. Ask how we can represent you with no upfront cost to you and no fee unless you win your case. Our contingency fee agreements allow you to pursue justice and the compensation that you need without worrying about who pays for a lawsuit. Contact us for more information about our fee agreements.

What are the key elements in a wrongful death case?

The elements in a wrongful death case are:

  • Negligence or more serious misconduct – Negligence is action or inaction that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others
  • Causation – Negligence must be the cause of the harm to the victim. If the negligence is not the reason for the harm, there is no case.
  • Death – A victim loses their life because of their injuries
  • Damages – The victim’s family suffers damages

What damages can be claimed in wrongful death in Colorado?

Damages available in a Colorado wrongful death claim include:

  • Lost financial support provided to the family
  • Loss of consortium (companionship)
  • Grief
  • Mental anguish
  • Burial expenses

In addition, medical bills, property damages, medical expenses, and lost income before death can be claimed as part of a separate survival action brought by the victim’s estate.

How do you prove wrongful death?

To prove wrongful death, examine the underlying causes of the accident. What were the actions of each individual or entity leading up to the accident? Were these actions reasonable?

Gather evidence to prove fault, causation of death, and the amount of damages. Admissible evidence may include witness testimony, medical experts, documentation, images, video, and more. Be ready to counter issues raised by the defendant.

What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a formal claim for compensation based on the loss of a family member in a personal injury accident. It is a civil lawsuit with the goal of a judgment for financial compensation for the loss. The plaintiffs have the burden of proof to prove their case.

What type of wrongful death settlement can you get in Colorado?

Settlement amounts for wrongful death in Colorado may include the following:

  • Economic damages
  • Non-economic damages
  • Punitive damages

Compensatory damages (economic and non-economic) are limited to $571,870. This number is periodically adjusted for inflation. If the defense acts with fraud, malice or willful and wanton misconduct, punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages.

What should I look for when choosing a wrongful death lawyer or law firm?

A legal claim is a large undertaking during a difficult time. Compensation amounts are generally high, and you can expect the defense to fight the case aggressively. This is why you need an experienced wrongful death law firm to help you from start to finish.

The attorney should have a legal practice dedicated to personal injury. They should have extensive experience working on many wrongful death cases. In addition, because of the complexity and the many steps involved in the type of claim, they should work with a legal team with ample resources to complete the task. A lawyer should listen to your story and work with you to tailor your legal goals to your situation.

Sources:

1CRS 13-21-201

If you have lost a loved one because of a personal injury, we understand how devastating it can be. But we are here to fight for you. Our dedicated lawyers with the Elite Litigation Group have the experience, skills, resources, and drive to get results for our clients. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation about your case.

 

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