The Basics of Wrongful Death in Colorado

If you have lost a close relative, such as a spouse, parent, or child 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. In Colorado, as in many other states, there is a legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Colorado?

A wrongful death occurs when someone dies because of another person's wrongful act, carelessness, or negligence. Although the party responsible for the death may also face criminal charges brought by the government, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter that is separate and independent of any criminal charges and brought by private parties.

A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed 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 dies because of the actions of another. However, the most common situations are fatal car accidents, dangerous and defective products, and dangerous property conditions.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Colorado?

Losing a loved one in an accident is very traumatic and can cause feelings of anxiety and stress, especially when thinking about how your family will be supported. While grieving the loss of a family member is always difficult, it is important to know that you may be able to receive financial recovery after the fatal accident through a wrongful death lawsuit.

A wrongful death lawsuit can help families recover financially after a fatal accident. Pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated. It can be helpful to have a basic understanding of who can file a lawsuit and what can be recovered.

After a fatal accident, only certain individuals related to the victim can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Within the first year of the accident, if the victim was married at the time of the death, only the victim's spouse can file a wrongful death lawsuit against those responsible for the fatality. After the first year, the spouse and certain heirs can both seek financial recovery.

Parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of an unmarried child who does not have any children of their own. Children can file a lawsuit after the death of a parent one year after the accident. Unfortunately, Colorado law does not allow siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins or close friends to pursue financial recovery after fatal accidents.

Wrongful death lawsuits in Colorado must adhere to strict guidelines, including short deadlines to file lawsuits. It is important for family members to contact a wrongful death attorney in a timely manner to protect their right to financial recovery after losing a loved one.

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Colorado?

The statute of limitations varies by cause of death. In Colorado, any civil action in the case of a wrongful death - regardless of whom it is brought against or why - must be initiated within two years of the cause.

The exception to this rule is in a case when a defendant commits vehicular homicide in a hit-and-run accident. In this instance, the statute of limitations is extended to four years.

What are Damages Recoverable in Colorado Wrongful Death?

Under Colorado law, economic and noneconomic damages may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit. 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
  • Emotional loss and loss of companionship

What Is Loss of Companionship and Loss of Consortium?

Loss of companionship and loss of consortium are both topics of compensation in wrongful death and personal injury cases. It is likely that most individuals that are injured or killed leave behind loved ones. Immediate family members, spouses and children, can file a claim based on the loss they experienced after the death or injury of their family member.

In loss of companionship cases, damages awarded are meant to represent the benefits that an individual would experience from the love and relationship of the individual that was injured or killed. To be awarded loss of companionship compensation, a jury examines different elements of the relationship in question. Considerations may be living arrangements, the condition of the relationship at the time of loss and what interests and activities the parties had in common and enjoyed.

A loss of consortium, especially in cases where there are children left behind, may also be used to award compensation. Considerations for this type of compensation would be the loss of companionship, assistance, affection and solace that family members suffered as a result of their loved one's injury or death.

Typically claims of loss of companionship or consortium weigh heavily on the outcome of the injured party's claim. Family members filing the claim tend to do so in conjunction with their loved one's claim.

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.

Wrongful Death vs. Survival Action

Not being able to seek any sort of recourse can leave one feeling completely lost and alone. Those feelings of powerlessness do not necessarily disappear after the one who has been affected dies. Their family members may continue to feel the need to fight on their behalf.

Most might assume that if that desire did prompt them to seek legal action, it would come in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit. Yet the individual circumstances of the case will determine the resulting action.

Some might question how that is different from a wrongful death lawsuit. A "wrongful death action" is defined by the Legal Information Institute, as a lawsuit that is the result of a tortious injury that resulted in someone's death. A survival action, is an action that survives the death of the plaintiff.

According to Section 13-20-101 of Colorado's Revised Statutes, any cause of action (other than claims of slander or libel) survives the death of one who has claim to it. Their representatives can then take up that action on their behalf once they are gone.

The court hearing such a case would treat it as though the plaintiff were still alive. In a survival action, any damages awarded would be meant to cover the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs. Family and friends cannot receive non-economic damages related to their suffering over the plaintiff's loss.

Can a Fatal Car Accident be a Wrongful Death?

There are over 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S. alone. That is a lot of traffic and creates the potential for fatal accidents. All sorts of dangerous behaviors from drinking to texting are responsible for causing injuries and deaths to thousands each year.

Fatal accidents due to the negligent behavior of a driver are considered wrongful death cases. Whether the negligent driver is operating a car, truck, boat, or semi, unsafe driving practices that lead to death fall under this category.

With the average American spending more than 5 percent of their lives driving, it is no wonder so many drivers try to make the most of this time by multitasking. Eating, drinking, talking, and texting are all behaviors that some drivers engage in every day. Unfortunately paying anything less than 100 percent of your attention to the road makes you, not only dangerous but if in an accident, negligent as well.

In the event a negligent driver causes an accident that leads to death, a wrongful death case may be made by the surviving family. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the family's attorney to prove wrongful death by negligence. If found guilty of wrongful death due to negligence, the consequences can be severe.

If you or someone you love has been impacted by a negligent driver, you may have a wrongful death case. An evaluation by one of our trusted injury attorneys will help you decide if the case of wrongful death can and should be made.

A Wrongful Death 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.