Wrongful death is defined in Colorado as a death that occurred as a result of wrongful act, neglect, or default of another. Wrongful death might be thought of as a personal injury claim on behalf of a person who is not alive to file his or her own lawsuit.
What Situations Constitute Wrongful Death?
Again, any situation where an individual has died as a direct result of the negligence, wrongful act, or default of another person can be grounds for wrongful death. Common scenarios for wrongful death suits include:
- Medical malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents (cars, semi-trucks)
- Faulty products
- Work accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Different rules apply in Colorado based on whether or not the victim was married and/or had children, and whether or not they had previously named a beneficiary.
If the victim was married, had children, or had a designated beneficiary:
Within the first 365 days following the accident, only a surviving spouse may file a wrongful death lawsuit. The spouse can file in writing to allow surviving children to file suit or join in the spousal claim. If the victim had no spouse, then surviving children or designated beneficiary may file a wrongful death claim.
In the second year following the death, the surviving spouse, children, and any designated beneficiaries may all file a wrongful death suit, either jointly or separately.
In the event that the victim’s children file suit, a surviving spouse and/or designated beneficiary are given 90 days to join the lawsuit.
If the victim was unmarried, had no children, and had no designated beneficiary:
The deceased’s parents may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Types of Damages May Be Awarded in Wrongful Death?
Damages refers to monetary amounts specified for claimed losses. These are typically grouped into economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses related to expenses incurred as a result of the person’s death. Common economic damages in wrongful death cases include:
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income
- Loss of benefits/insurance coverage
There is no cap in Colorado for the amount of economic damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Non-economic damages attempt to compensate for the emotional suffering inflicted on a surviving person. These are, naturally, much more difficult to quantify. Some common non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (refers to the benefits of a relationship and companionship between two people)
Colorado currently limits the amount of non-economic damages to somewhere around $572,000. This number is reviewed and adjusted each year. However, if it is determined that the deceased was a victim of a felony (1st or 2nd degree murder), this cap does not apply.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Suit?
In Colorado, you typically must file your claim within two years following the date of death. However, if the death occurred as a result of a felony hit-and-run, you have up to four years to file.?
Should You Hire an Attorney for Your Wrongful Death Case?
Yes. Although you have the right to represent yourself in civil proceedings, it is not recommended. Wrongful death cases, in particular, can be highly complicated and emotional. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney will ensure your case goes smoothly while you focus on healing.