Common Wrongful Death Claims
Most wrongful death claims involve some degree of negligence. The most common source of wrongful death claims is car crashes, but industrial or workplace accidents, dangerous property conditions, defective products, aviation accidents, fires, substandard medical care and more can generate wrongful death claims.
All states recognize wrongful death as a valid legal tort, but every state has unique statutes that govern the details of these cases. Wrongful death claims are processed through the civil court system. In civil court, the deceased’s family or heirs sue the defendant (the person or entity who caused injury) for financial compensation. This is opposed to the criminal justice system, where the government can bring charges for murder, homicide, or manslaughter.
Wrongful Death Law in Colorado
WHAT IT ALLOWS
The statute governing wrongful death in Colorado is C.R.S. §§ 13-21-201 to 13-21-204. Under this statute, a wrongful death claim may be brought if the deceased, had she survived, would have been legally entitled to recover damages from the defendant. To prove that death was caused by negligence, a Colorado attorney will have to prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to the deceased, and that breach resulted in death. Colorado allows for comparative fault in civil cases, including wrongful death cases. Therefore, the determination of liability is very important. If a jury decides that a deceased person is 50% or more responsible for her death (for example, if both drivers were texting) then no recovery can be obtained.
When Colorado’s wrongful death law was originally written, its purpose was to provide a means of financial support for remaining family members. In this spirit, Colorado gives the surviving spouse the exclusive right to bring a wrongful death claim during the first year after death. If there is no spouse, this right goes to children, then parents, then a designated beneficiary if one exists.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The statute of limitations for bringing a wrongful death claim in Colorado is 2 years, meaning all wrongful death actions must be initiated within 2 years of death or plaintiffs lose the right to sue. There are two minor exceptions to the statute:
- If the deceased was killed in a car accident, the statute of limitations is 3 years.
- If the deceased was killed in a hit and run, the statute of limitations increases to 4 years.
If there was alcohol involvement and the plaintiff wishes to make a claim against the establishment that served the alcohol, the statute shortens to one year.
Unfortunately, siblings, cousins, and close friends are barred from bringing a wrongful death action in Colorado. This is true even if siblings are the only surviving relatives. The statute was only recently amended to give a “designated beneficiary” standing to sue.
Wrongful Death Compensation and Damages
In a Colorado wrongful death case, a spouse, heirs, or parents can seek compensation for economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages can include medical bills, loss of current and future financial support, loss of services, loss of retirement benefits, and funeral costs. Noneconomic losses such as grief, sorrow, and loss of companionship are capped at approximately $430,000 unless the death is determined to be a “felonious killing.” In that case, there is no limit to the noneconomic damages that can be sought. A criminal conviction is not necessary for a civil jury to determine that the defendant’s conduct caused a felonious killing in Colorado. Civil juries can act independently of criminal courts in this regard.
In cases where noneconomic damages are sought, juries are also allowed to consider the nature of the plaintiff’s relationship to the deceased (i.e., close versus estranged). Wrongful death cases can be very emotional, and sometimes a plaintiff simply cannot bear to testify about her personal loss and grief to an open court. In these cases, Colorado applies C.R.S. § 13-21-203.5, which allows the plaintiff in a wrongful death case to accept the “solatium amount” instead of testifying. The current solatium amount is approximately $87,000. It does not require proof of damages and represents the minimum amount of recovery in a Colorado wrongful death claim.
Have You Lost a Loved One Due to Negligence?
CALL A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
This article is not a full accounting of all the elements and factors that go into wrongful death claims in Colorado. The law governing these cases can be complex. Skilled, compassionate attorney representation is essential, and the statute of limitations is short. If you have lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, do not delay in seeking legal representation.
At Shafner Law, we have helped many families recover damages after the loss of a loved one. We understand that although the recovery of money is very important, these cases are about more than that. They are about recovering from grief and loss, and achieving a measure of justice. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person or corporation, we would be honored to hear your story.
For a free consultation, call Shafner Law at (303) 796-0555 or fill out the Case Form below.
Additional Wrongful Death Resources