If you have lost a close relative (e.g. spouse, child or parent) because of someone else's negligence, you may wonder if you have any means of recovering the expenses and losses resulting from his or her death. For Colorado residents, as in many other states, there is a legal right to file wrongful death lawsuit in such instances.
Nature of lawsuit
A wrongful death occurs when someone is killed because of someone else's wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, or negligence. Although the party responsible for the decedent's death may also face criminal charges for his or her actions, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter that is separate and independent of any criminal charges. As such, a wrongful death act may be brought regardless of whether criminal charges were filed (or their outcome). Unlike criminal charges, the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate the decedent's close family members.
Wrongful death can occur in virtually any situation where someone is killed because of negligence. However, the most common situations are fatal car accidents, dangerous and defective products, and dangerous property conditions.
Right to lawsuit
In Colorado, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is controlled by statute. The statute limits the class of persons that may file the lawsuit and recover damages.
Under Colorado law, only the surviving spouse may file the lawsuit within the first year after the decedent's death. However, the decedent's heirs may join the spouse in the lawsuit, if the spouse gives written consent. If there is no surviving spouse, the heirs may file the lawsuit. The decedent's parents have the right to bring the lawsuit, if there is no surviving spouse or heirs. During the second year after the decedent's death, both the decedent's heirs and spouse have a right to file the lawsuit.
Under Colorado law, economic and noneconomic damages may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit (however noneconomic damages are subject to a cap). These damages include but are not limited to:
- Funeral expenses and medical bills
- Loss of decedent's earnings
- Loss of decedent's services
- Pain and suffering (up to $250,000)
- Emotional loss and loss of companionship (up to $250,000)
In addition, if the conduct of the party responsible for the decedent's death was willful, reckless or wanton, punitive damages may also be recovered.
An attorney can help
If you have lost a loved one due to the carelessness of another, contact an attorney experienced with handling wrongful death cases. An attorney can fully advise you of your right to recover under Colorado law and work to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your loss.