A “wrongful death” is the death of a person that was caused by the wrongful act of another. Wrongful acts include negligence, such as careless driving, or intentionally harmful acts, such as assault and battery. After a person dies in this manner, legal action can be brought against the responsible party in civil court, to compensate the family of the victim. This type of lawsuit is known as a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?
Only certain people can file a wrongful death claim, within certain time restrictions under Colorado wrongful death statutes.
In the first year after the person dies, a claim may be brought by the surviving spouse of the deceased. Upon the written election of the surviving spouse, a claim may also be brought by the spouse and heirs of the deceased, or by the heirs alone. If the person who died left no surviving spouse, a claim may be brought by the heirs or by the designated beneficiary.
In the second year after death, any of the following may file a wrongful death claim:
- Spouse of the deceased
- Heirs of the deceased
- Spouse and heirs of the deceased
- Designated beneficiary of the deceased
When Can Parents File a Wrongful Death Claim?
If the deceased person has no surviving spouse and no surviving children, the parents of the deceased may file a claim within two years of the person’s death. When a child is the victim of wrongful death, the parents may file a claim. Both parents will have an equal interest in the judgment. If either parent has died, the surviving parent will have exclusive interest in the judgment.
How Long Does the Family Have to File for Wrongful Death?
The statute of limitations (time limit imposed by law) is two years in Colorado. A claim not filed within that time period will be forever barred. Family members who have lost a loved one through someone else’s negligence should begin the process as soon as possible to ensure this does not happen.
What Damages Can Be Claimed for Wrongful Death?
Damages for the wrongful death of an adult may include:
- Medical expenses for the final illness or injury of the deceased
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the deceased person’s income and services
- Pain and suffering (this is capped at $250,000)
- Loss of companionship and emotional loss (also capped at $250,000)
The damages parents are entitled to claim for the wrongful death of a child are typically limited to their financial damages, as children usually have no income and have not contributed significantly to the household. Colorado allows for punitive damages (designed to punish the defendant) in cases when death was caused by willful or reckless actions.
What Are the Caps on Wrongful Death Damages in Colorado?
Under state law, non-economic damages are capped in Colorado. With certain exceptions, the cap on pain and suffering is $250,000. In medical malpractice cases, Colorado allows a total of $1 million in damages, but no more than $300,000 for pain and suffering. If there is no surviving spouse of a wrongful death victim, total damages are capped at $250,000 (or $500,000 with clear and convincing evidence that it is justified), or at $300,000 if wrongful death resulted from medical negligence.
Wrongful death claims can be complicated in Colorado. If you have lost a loved one through the wrongful act of another, call the Tenge Law Firm, LLC, at (303) 665-2929 to speak with a Boulder personal injury lawyer. We are a full-service firm with the knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively handle your case.