When someone dies due to the fault of another person or entity, surviving family members may be able to bring a wrongful death claim in Colorado. In a wrongful death claim, survivors can seek compensation for lost wages of the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
When is a Wrongful Death Claim Applicable?
A wrongful death claim can arise after situations in which a victim who would otherwise have a valid personal injury claim is killed as a result of the tortfeasor’s wrongful action. This can occur in a variety of situations, including:
- Intentional Torts: These encompass a broad array of actions done intentionally by one person to another where there is intent to commit that act and bring about a specific result, and the act results in wrongful death. For example, O.J. Simpson was sued in civil court for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. These civil suits brought by the victims’ families were separate from the State’s criminal case against Simpson.
- Medical Malpractice: Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals sometimes make mistakes through a negligent act or omission that results in the death of a patient. A physician could misdiagnose a condition, leading to a delay in care or inappropriate treatment that either does not help or makes things worse. A surgeon might make a fatal error during an operation. A doctor might prescribe a mediation to which a patient has an allergy or causes a dangerous interaction with another drug. A pharmacist may provide the wrong medication or fail to notice a potentially dangerous interaction when filing a prescription.
- Car Accident Fatalities: If a victim dies as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident, a wrongful death claim may be brought.
- Defective Product: Following a car accident, it is important to investigate all contributing factors. If a car manufacturer failed to deliver a vehicle that is not only safe for the operator, but for all other drivers who share the road, it may face liability in a wrongful death case. Outside of the automotive world, a defective produce can also occur with consumer products like electronic appliances and kitchen appliances, industrial machinery, medical devices, like cardiac pumps and defibrillators, and even children’s products, like highchairs, cribs, clothing, and toys. If a product is defective or malfunctions seriously enough to cause death, there may be grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Who can File a Colorado Wrongful Death Case?
Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act permits specifically designated parties the right to recover damages for a decedent’s wrongful death.
During the first year following a victim’s death, the decedent’s surviving spouse is permitted to bring a wrongful death claim. In lieu of independently filing a claim, the surviving spouse may elect in writing to allow the decedent’s children to file the claim or join. In the absence of a surviving spouse, a wrongful death claim may be brought by the heirs or designated beneficiary of the decedent.
During the second year following a victim’s death, any of the following people may bring a wrongful death case:
- Spouse of the decedent;
- Heirs of the decedent;
- Spouse and heirs of the decedent;
- Designated beneficiary of the decedent.
What Damages Can be Sought in a Colorado Wrongful Death Case?
Colorado damages are typically divided into two categories – economic and non-economic.
Economic damages include:
- Wages and other compensation the decedent would likely have earned if he or she had lived;
- Medical treatment costs the decedent incurred as a result of the injury prior to death;
- Benefits lost because of the death; and
- Funeral and burial expenses.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of the deceased person’s companionship
- Emotional distress.
While there is not a cap on economic damages in wrongful death claims, the maximum non-economic damages in a Colorado wrongful death case is $571,870.00. If, however, the claim is based on a “felonious killing” (first- or second-degree manslaughter or murder), the cap on non-economic damages does not apply.
What is the Statute of Limitations in a Colorado Wrongful Death Case?
The time in which you must file a lawsuit is known as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations typically begins on the date of the occurrence subject of the lawsuit. In Colorado, most wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years after the decedent’s death. However, if the person died as the result of a hit-and-run vehicle homicide, the statute of limitations is four years.
Do I need an Attorney to file a Wrongful Death Case?
If you are considering filing a wrongful death claim in Colorado, it is a good idea to consult with a qualified and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. Wrongful death cases can be complicated, and the attorneys at Bowman Law can explain how the law might apply to your specific situation. Call Bowman Law today at 720.863.6904 or email us for your free consultation.
Owner and Managing Attorney
Jerry Bowman, J.D., M.A., Owner and managing attorney of Bowman Law LLC, takes his responsibility to the legal profession seriously and dedicates his time and effort to providing quality and competent legal representation to clients in Denver and throughout all of Colorado. He holds an MA in Political Science from Wayne State University and earned his law degree in two and a half years from Michigan State University College of Law.