Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is difficult. In the aftermath of an individual's passing, natural feelings of grief and sadness are likely to surface in family members, friends, and acquaintances who continue to live on, especially if the loss is significant. Nevertheless, these feelings are immensely magnified when those who are left behind realize that the deceased's passing could have been prevented. In the event that a person is killed as a result of the misconduct or negligence displayed by another party or organization, their passing is deemed a “wrongful death.”
Colorado law dictates that a bereaved family is provided the right to file a claim on the behalf of their loved one against any entity that they believe is legally liable for their beloved's death. In a family's pursuit of legal recourse, it is crucial that they understand some basic regulations, such as who is eligible for filing in their state, the potential damages that could be recovered, and the amount of time their state provides for filing a viable claim.
Eligibility for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado
Each state imposes its own specific laws referencing who is able to bring a wrongful death claim to a civil court. Colorado law comprehensively lays out which members of a bereaved family are eligible for filing a wrongful death claim within allotted time periods.
In accordance with Colorado law, the surviving spouse of the deceased is the sole person who is legally permitted to file a civil wrongful death claim within the first year of said person's passing. However, within the duration of the second year of the death, both the surviving spouse and surviving children are permitted to file a wrongful death claim in the state. In cases when a deceased person did not marry nor have surviving children, the responsibility of bringing a lawsuit is shifted to the parents of the deceased.
It's important to note that along with a claim filed by family members, a representative of a deceased person's estate also may file a separate claim, legally known as a “survival action” claim, in order to seek damages for losses to an estate.
Colorado's Statute of Limitations
Just as legislation concerning who can file a wrongful death claim varies from state to state, so does each state's "statute of limitations," or the time limit to file a claim concerning specific causes of action. In Colorado, wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the date of a casualty. As mentioned above, the state also strictly limits who can file depending on how many years have passed since the date of the individual's death.
If a court finds that the defendant(s) listed in a claim is, in fact, liable for a wrongful death, monetary compensation will be assessed by a judge or jury. Surviving family members are able to recover both economic and/or non-economic damages they have acquired due to the loss of their loved ones through evidence and testimonials.
Economic damages refer to tangible and documentable losses a plaintiff can prove in court. They typically consist of financial sacrifices experienced by surviving family members that would not have been necessary if not for the actions (or lack thereof) committed by the defendant. A few examples of economic damages sought in wrongful death claims include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses related to the injury or any other causes of their death
- Loss of an inheritance due to an untimely death
- Loss of benefits
- Loss of the deceased's expected earnings
Non-economic damages are intangible losses that surviving family members have endured as a result of the death of a loved one. These types of damages are more difficult to prove in court due to the fact that the emotional and psychological state of a plaintiff may not be visible to a judge or jury. However, the use of a testimony detailing the mental and emotional trauma sustained from a significant loss may be enough to sway the jury that a plaintiff is owed non-economic damages as a result of a casualty. A few examples of non-economic damages that can be potentially recovered are:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of care, protection, and guidance from the deceased
Please note that the state of Colorado has placed restrictions on the monetary amount of non-economic damages one could recover in a court of law. According to state statute C.R.S. § 12-21-203, the limitation on non-economic damages for a wrongful death claim shall not exceed $250,000 plus inflation. Therefore, the contemporary cap for these types of claims are $436,070. This may increase or decrease in any given year depending on inflation.
Causes of Wrongful Death
The unfortunate occurrence of a wrongful death may transpire in a number of settings and be caused by an array of factors. However, the most commonly reported cases of wrongful death claims stem from medical malpractice, auto collisions, and defective products.
Licensed medical professionals owe their patients a duty to uphold the “standard of care” while practicing. This standard references how a competent practitioner would operate in any given circumstance. When a practitioner's actions lead to the death of a patient, and it is proven that those actions deviated from the standard of care, he or she will be found liable for a fatality.
Motor vehicle accidents occur every single day, resulting in nearly 1.3 million casualties per year. If a reckless driver causes an accident that kills another person, they may be held liable in a wrongful death suit.
When a manufacturer, designer, distributor, retailer or sales representative fails to keep a consumer safe because they are negligent, they may be held responsible in a wrongful death case.
Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
At the law firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we understand that coping with the death of a loved one is difficult. Although the pursuance of a legal answer may not bring your loved one back, knowing that those who acted negligently at the expense of your beloved's life are held responsible may provide you with consolation. Contact us today for a consultation.