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What Qualifies as Wrongful Death in Colorado?

04/20/2021

Death is so final that it leaves behind a deep sense of loss for the deceased person's family. It's worse when the person didn't die from natural means but an accident resulting from negligence. When this happens, Colorado law allows the bereaved family to ask for compensation from the fault party. The law refers to this as a wrongful death lawsuit, and our attorneys at Firouzbakht Law Firm are experts in handling wrongful death claims. This article looks at wrongful death actions and what qualifies as one in Colorado. 

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death in Colorado?

A woman cries because she lost a loved one due to a wrongful death

For a wrongful death lawsuit to exist, someone must have died from the injury suffered from an accident caused by a negligent act. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit distinct from the criminal charges faced by the responsible party. However, a guilty verdict in the criminal trial would help the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit get compensation faster. But note that there can be a wrongful death suit even in the absence of a criminal charge.

Common causes of wrongful deaths are: 

  • Motor vehicle accident, e.g., drunk driving accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents 
  • Aviation accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective products 
  • Workplace accidents
  • Animal attacks
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Truck accidents
  • Train accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents

In any of these above scenarios, once the victim dies, their family or estate representatives can bring a wrongful death claim. Under the Colorado wrongful death statute, for a claim of this nature to succeed, the plaintiffs must show the following: 

The Existence of a Duty of Care

It's not enough to say someone caused the death of your loved one. You must show that they owed the deceased a duty of care. It means the negligent party failed to exercise reasonable care and behaved carelessly. Consequently, the breach led to the victim's accidental death. 

The Breach of the Duty of Care

After establishing a duty of care, the next thing is to prove that there was a breach. For instance, in traffic accidents, the fault driver would be in breach of the care duty if they ran a red light. Another example is a driver who gets on the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

The Death Resulted From the Breached Duty

Showing there was a duty and a breach is not enough to win a wrongful death action. It would help if you established that the breach of duty led to a fatal accident that took the victim from you. Note that if there is proof that another factor other than the fault party's negligence act caused the death, the claim will fail. So, in a way, there must be no room for reasonable doubt to come into play. 

The Death Resulted in Damages

Lastly, you must show that you suffered damages from the deceased person's loss for a wrongful death action to succeed. Most times, only family members like spouses and children and the victim's parents are affected by the death. Anyone who falls outside this list must show how the death impacted them before getting monetary compensation. Note that the monetary damages for wrongful death claims also cover what the victim would have been entitled to if they had lived and filed a personal injury lawsuit. 

Proving the four elements requires the expertise of a wrongful death attorney. Taking legal action without wrongful death lawyers will be detrimental to your case in the long run. If your case doesn't qualify as wrongful death, the legal counsel will advise you and avoid wasting time and resources.  

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in Colorado? 

Losing a loved one can cause severe emotional distress and financial losses. Suppose the person had no life insurance coverage before their demise. It might be hard for their family to handle the burial costs and medical bills. This is why Colorado law allows certain people to file a wrongful death action to recover wrongful death damages. 

The Victim's Spouse and Children

Relationships are the bedrock of wrongful death claims. Without a relationship, the civil action will be void from the beginning. This is why only the spouse can file a wrongful death suit against the party responsible in the first year of the victim's death. Note that the spouse must have been married to the deceased person at the time of their death. Also, after the first year elapses, the victim's children can seek financial recovery. 

The Victim's Parents

Mother in daughter cry because they lost a loved one

If the victim was unmarried at the time of their death, their parents could file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased person was unmarried but had a minor child or children, they are entitled to damages recoverable. 

Colorado laws do not allow for siblings, aunts, uncles, or close friends to recover damages. To this end, if any of these people file a wrongful death lawsuit, the claim will not succeed. Keep in mind that Colorado's wrongful death claims must adhere to strict guidelines. This is why it is vital to contact experienced attorneys and have them handle your case. 

What Are the Damages Available in a Colorado Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In wrongful death cases in Colorado, a jury assesses the number of monetary damages. If there is no jury, the judge carries out the assessment. The amount the wrongful death plaintiff gets is dependent on the facts of the case. It simply means that what one person gets is distinct from the other. The court looks at how much the victim contributed to the plaintiff in their lifetime and what they spent trying to save the deceased. 

To this end, Colorado law allows for the following types of compensation: 

  • Loss of income and future earnings
  • Loss of consortium
  • Medical costs of treatment before the victim's death
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional stress and loss of companionship
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The above fall under the two major types of damages: economic and non-economic damages. The former can be calculated to a specific sum. But the latter is unquantifiable and doesn't have any specific monetary value. 

Also, Colorado courts can award punitive damages against the negligent party. But before doing this, the evidence must show that the party responsible is guilty of gross negligence. The court awards it to punish a wrongdoer and to prevent others from committing the same negligent act. 

When Should You File a Wrongful Death Action? 

In civil actions, timing is crucial as the window for bringing claims closes faster than most people expect. To this end, when you suffer injury from another person's actions, you must commence a legal action timeously. So, when should you file a wrongful death claim in Colorado?

The state's Statute of Limitations provides that all wrongful death suits must commence within two years from the victim's death. Once the two-year period elapses, no court in Colorado will entertain the claim. This timeline is further reduced to a year due to the requirement that only the deceased's person's spouse can bring an action within the first year.

The victim's parents and children would have to wait until the year elapses, leaving them with one year to bring their claim. This is why it is crucial to have a wrongful death attorney from the beginning of the claims process. The lawyer will not only ensure they file your claim in time, but they will also work to get you damages for pain and suffering and every loss incurred. 

Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Compensation? 

In most wrongful death claims, the fault party's insurance company pays compensation to the victim. For example, if the victim died in a motor vehicle accident, the money will come from the fault driver's motorist liability insurance coverage. If they don't have one, they will have to pay out-of-pocket, that is, their personal money. 

If the accident involved the driver of a trucking company, the company would pay the compensatory sum. If it happens on a commercial or private property, like a slip and fall, the property owner will pay the damages. 

If the victim died from medical negligence, then the doctor will pay the compensatory sum. But, at other times, and depending on the facts, the hospital's malpractice insurance policy will cover the payment. Note that there's an instance where you can get monetary damages from both the fault party and insurance company. 

This happens when the responsible party's insurance coverage is not enough to cover the settlement sum. The person would have to pay the difference out-of-pocket. However, it might be difficult to collect the outstanding amount if the fault party doesn't have the resources to make payments.

Thus, an insurance company is always the better option for paying wrongful death lawsuit compensation. Furthermore, you can lose the compensation if you file a claim against the wrong party. So, hire an experienced wrongful death accident attorney to help you identify the proper party or parties. 

Firouzbakht Law Firm Can Provide the Help You Need!

Losing a loved one is one of life's greatest pains, but getting justice for their death can make things easier. Part of this is bringing a wrongful death claim against the person responsible for the victim's death. At Firouzbakht Law Firm, we can help you get justice and enough settlement to find closure. 

A doctor holds a wrongful death picture in a Denver hospital

We have handled many Colorado wrongful death cases and have the experience needed to represent your interest. We will get you the maximum amount for general and punitive damages. Our legal services extend to counseling, and we are strong allies for all bereaved persons. Give us a call today to get started on your case.

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