Losing a loved one in a sudden, unexpected manner is a tragic experience from which many families never fully recover. Events of this type are even more traumatic when caused by the avoidable negligent acts or omissions of another party. In addition to the mental and emotional anguish that follow circumstances of this nature, it is often the case that surviving family members are thrown into a sort of financial uncertainty and turmoil that can prove crippling. In an effort to alleviate this type of suffering to the greatest possible extent, the law in Colorado affords those left behind an opportunity to pursue a wrongful death action as a means to secure financial compensation from those responsible for the premature death.
Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal possesses detailed familiarity with the important distinctions between wrongful death lawsuits and typical personal injury actions and will work tirelessly to help aggrieved families obtain the justice, accountability and financial recovery they deserve.
Fundamentals of Wrongful Death Claims
At its heart, a wrongful death claim could rightly be characterized as a type of personal injury claim in which the victim is no longer present to seek compensation on their own behalf, therefore making it necessary for a close relative or the deceased party's estate to do so. The essential showing in a wrongful death action is that the defendant did in fact cause the death of the decedent due to negligent acts, omissions or intentional conduct. It should be noted that the right of relatives and others to file lawsuits under such circumstances does not stem from a distinct tort committed against them by the defendant, but rather is entirely derivative of the harm suffered by the deceased victim.
As a result, the right to file suit is based upon the rights the deceased individual would have had against the defendant if he or she had survived the injury event itself. A consequence of this is that any defenses a defendant might have raised against the decedent can also be utilized in the wrongful death case. This includes raising arguments related to the comparative negligence of the victim with regard to what occurred, which could potentially reduce the amount of compensation available by a degree equal to the proportion of fault borne by the victim.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Suit in Colorado, and When?
Colorado statute specifically delineates the parties eligible to file a wrongful death suit. Among them are the spouse of the decedent, lineal descendants, a designated beneficiary and, in some cases, the surviving parents of decedents who are unmarried and without children of their own. The timing of a wrongful death claim is dependent on the particular relationship the plaintiff had with the deceased party.
In the first year following the death at issue, only the decedent's spouse is permitted to file a wrongful death claim, unless one of three available exceptions is triggered. A spouse has the option to include, in writing, the decedent's lineal heirs as plaintiffs. If the deceased party was unmarried, the heirs or a designated beneficiary can file suit during this period. If no such individuals exist, the deceased's parents choose to file.
During the second year after the wrongful death event, spouses, heirs or designated beneficiaries are all permitted to file suit, separately or together. Should the heirs decide to sue in the second year, spouses and beneficiaries are afforded a right to join their action, provided they do so within ninety days of the suit's filing.
Scenarios Commonly Leading to Wrongful Death Claims
There can be no doubt about the fact that wrongful death claims can originate in an incredibly broad array of fact patterns and scenarios. Common circumstances leading to legal actions of this type include:
- automobile accidents
- commercial vehicle crashes
- pedestrian collisions
- sports-related accidents
- medical malpractice
- work site accidents
- industrial mishaps
- dangerous drugs and devices
- defective consumer products
- dangerous premises
In all cases, it is necessary to establish that the death at issue is directly linked to the negligent acts, omissions or conduct of the defendant, a process which can involve massive amounts of evidence including eyewitness testimony, expert analysis and the like.
Proving Liability and Causation
As every wrongful death claim hinges on successful establishment of the defendant's liability as well as causation of the death in question, plaintiffs often need to secure the help of a range of experts who can credibly and convincingly make the needed showings. Liability experts may include accident reconstruction professionals, physicists or engineers who can attest, for instance, how an automobile crash occurred and how the defendant was to blame. Similarly, causation experts such as doctors, pathologists or coroners may be required to establish precisely how the decedent lost his or her life, ruling out alternative, preexisting explanations for the death.
Available Damages and Applicable Caps in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When it comes to calculating available damages in a wrongful death claim, many complex considerations are inevitably involved. Economic damages may be obtained by dependents of the decedent, including a spouse and minor children, and tend to include things such as medical expenses incurred, funeral costs and the financial benefits likely to have been provided by the deceased party to the recipients had he or she survived. Factors used to determine this latter amount include his or her health status, life expectancy, career prospects, job history and propensity to provide financial support to those claiming a right to it.
It is also possible for wrongful death claimants such as spouses, children and sometimes even parents to receive payment for grief and sadness over the loss of the decedent, though Colorado statute has imposed a cap on the amount available. While it is necessary for proof of this type of suffering to be submitted in order to receive this type of monetary recovery, it is possible for claimants to receive up to $436,070 as compensation for emotional trauma resulting from the death. However, this cap does not apply in situations where the death at issue was determined to be the result of a felonious killing.
Quantifying Losses in Wrongful Death Claims
As is the case with personal injury actions of all descriptions, the success of a wrongful death claim relies heavily on the accurate quantification of losses suffered by those impacted by the events in question. The elements involved in calculations of this type are varied, and it is essential for plaintiffs to enlist the aid of a series of subject matter experts who can explain to a jury the true value of what has been taken away from those left behind. While the services of such experts can be costly to obtain, their insights are critical to making a persuasive showing of the degree of loss resulting from a defendant's actions.
Physicians, psychologists, economic loss analysts, vocational experts, accountants and others will be vital to assessing the damages sustained by surviving loved ones. These individuals will examine numerous factors including lost future income, lost future advancement opportunities, forfeited financial savings, lost health insurance and other benefits and more. It should be noted that it is not only the contributions of family breadwinners which may be compensated through a wrongful death action. The value of services rendered to a family by a deceased homemaker can also be recovered in actions of this nature, encompassing things such as cooking, cleaning, home maintenance, emotional support and care.
Solatium Claims in Colorado
Clearly, making a strong showing in court of the grief and loss suffered following a wrongful death event is a difficult, wrenching and arduous experience. Further, it may be a virtual impossibility for direct survivors whose relationship with the deceased party was strained or perhaps even limited in nature. To address such situations, Colorado law provides a decedent's heirs the choice of opting out of having to prove emotional anguish by filing what is known as a solatium claim. In exchange for recovery capped at $87,210 for cases in which fault is established, claimants bear no responsibility for proving a particular level of grief.
Helping Grieving Families Pursue Wrongful Death Actions
When tragedy strikes a family in a devastatingly unexpected way, the resulting shock waves can reverberate for years. The financial turmoil, unending emotional anguish and overall uncertainty stemming from the sudden death of a loved one regularly combine to leave survivors wondering where to turn. Losses of this type that are the result of preventable negligence or intentional conduct are even more difficult to accept. Though there is no award of monetary compensation sufficient to erase the memory of what has occurred, families upended by wrongful death are entitled to seek accountability and the resources they need to move forward.
A tireless advocate for the rights of those injured or lost due to the negligence of others, attorney Jeremy Rosenthal believes that every victim deserves an opportunity to secure full, fair and timely compensation for what has been taken from them. Acknowledging that the process of obtaining justice for victims is rarely simple, he is committed to providing unsurpassed client service, open communication and zealous legal advocacy at each and every stage of the cases he accepts.
Personalized Service for Colorado Clients
Few scenarios are more personally catastrophic than losing a close family member in a grossly unfair, unanticipated manner. Jeremy Rosenthal understands the immediate strain, confusion and potentially permanent harm such circumstances can create and stands ready to swiftly enter the fray in the quest for what is right. Due to a commitment to the proposition that a lack of financial resources should never serve as a bar to the pursuit of justice, he is proud to accept cases on a contingency basis. This simply means that victims of negligence who are represented by the firm owe no legal fees unless or until monetary recovery is secured in their matter.
Representation in Colorado Wrongful Death Claims
At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we appreciate the vast range of circumstances capable of forming the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit and pledge to leave nothing to chance when representing the interests of those left behind. This holds true regardless of the underlying facts of your claim, which may include events as factually diverse as:
- automobile or trucking accidents caused by negligent driving, equipment failure or improperly maintained roads
- public transportation accidents involving airlines, railways or watercraft
- dangerously designed, manufactured and/or marketed consumer products
- medical negligence including misdiagnosis, surgical error or improper administration of drugs
- premises liability events resulting from dangerously maintained public areas, icy walkways, hazardous building conditions
- construction site mishaps including heavy equipment malfunctions, improper engineering and supervisory negligence
- criminal actions on the part of another
- failure of a responsible entity to property supervise an activity in which the decedent was engaged
Dedicated Help Within Close Reach
As stated earlier, Colorado law does impose fairly strict time limitations within which a wrongful death claim must be filed or forfeited forever. In addition, the sooner action is taken following a death due to negligence, the better the chances a plaintiff has of preserving key evidence. Police records, documentary evidence, witness statements and other proof should be obtained as quickly as possible in order to bolster a claimant's case. For these reasons, individuals who have lost loved ones and wish to pursue compensation for losses sustained are urged to make contact with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible following the events in question.
At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we understand that the shock, disbelief and emotional paralysis that can follow on the heels of a sudden loss can prevent survivors from taking important legal action. However, by allowing us to shoulder the burden on your behalf and commence the battle for fairness, accountability and full compensation, the gradual process of healing can begin that much sooner. To schedule a no-cost initial consultation to explore your options and discuss the facts of your case, we invite you to contact us at 303.825.2223.