When a death occurs in a family, it’s always a tragic and distressing time for those left behind, but when the death results from the negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing of another party, it adds a new layer of pain to the grief. In any situation where an injury victim could have brought a personal injury claim forward had they survived, a close family member left behind can file a claim for wrongful death against the person or entity at fault for the death. Wrongful death claims may result from car accidents, medical malpractice, defective product accidents, cases of premises liability, or criminal acts.
If you lost a loved one due to the action or inaction of another in Colorado, it helps to understand the state’s wrongful death laws and how they might apply in your loved one’s case. If you have a questions about your case, an experienced Westminster wrongful death attorney can help you explore your legal options.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?
Colorado’s laws for wrongful death claims include a specific priority order or order of succession for filing a wrongful death claim for a deceased loved one. According to Colorado law, the following loved ones in this order of priority can file a wrongful death claim:
- Children, heirs, or a designated beneficiary
- The deceased person’s parents providing the deceased person has no spouse
Only the spouse may file a claim during the first year following the death, but others on the list may file in that year if the deceased had no spouse. In the second year, any of the above family members may file.
Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to provide financial resources to support the family members left behind in place of the loved one’s income and support, therefore the priority of family members allowed to file a lawsuit follows a purposeful order. For example, a sibling cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit because they wouldn’t have expected the deceased person to provide financial support for them had they lived.
The state does not initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, it’s up to one of the above family members to file a summons and claim in the court under the correct jurisdiction and naming the appropriate defendant in the case.
What Damages Can Family Members Gain From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is separate from any criminal charges that may be brought against the at-fault person in cases of criminal wrongdoing resulting in a wrongful death. A wrongful death lawsuit moves forward regardless of the result of a criminal case.
When a loved one’s untimely death results from another person’s actions or negligence, they are liable for the resulting economic and non-economic damages including the following:
- Medical expenses if the deceased was treated in a hospital before their death
- Funeral costs and burial expenses
- The income the deceased would have earned had they not died from their injuries
- Lost benefits, such as medical insurance and retirement packages
- Grief and personal anguish
- Loss of companionship, affection, assistance, and protection
- Loss of parental guidance
In cases of particularly egregious actions that result in wrongful death, putative damage awards may also be available. Unlike economic and non-economic damages meant to compensate loved ones for their losses, putative damages are meant as a form of punishment for wrongdoing and as a deterrent against repeat behaviors.
Colorado places a cap on non-economic damages and re-evaluates it frequently. Despite the cap, claimants can gain significant financial awards.
While financial compensation cannot return a lost loved one or erase the grief of those left behind, it can help to ease financial burdens so the family members can focus on moving forward from the tragedy.
Colorado’s Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
Colorado law places a statute of limitations on wrongful death claims. For civil actions, a claimant has up to two years to file for wrongful death damages. This statute of limitation extends to 4 years in cases of vehicular homicide.
If the deceased family members fail to file a wrongful death lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations in Colorado, they forfeit their right to any further claims.