Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death in Colorado
Many people do not fully understand the legal concept of wrongful death, sometimes confusing it with the crimes of murder or manslaughter. Although it might arise from the same act, wrongful death is a civil (not criminal) action in which monetary damages (not criminal penalties) are sought against a party for causing another person’s death.
What is wrongful death?
When a person is killed because of the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person, the surviving members of the deceased person’s family may be eligible to file a Colorado wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party or parties. Some common scenarios that might precipitate a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- An intentional killing, such as in the OJ Simpson case, when the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman sued Simpson for wrongful death in civil court.
- Medical malpractice, if a doctor failed to diagnose or misdiagnosed a condition or was careless in the level of care provided, resulting in a death, a wrongful death lawsuit could be filed.
- Auto accidents involving negligence can also prompt a wrongful death claim if someone dies in the crash.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado?
Those eligible to file a wrongful death claim in Colorado include the spouse, children, heirs, designated beneficiary, or dependent father or mother of the decedent. According to state law, the claim must be filed within two years of the deceased’s death.
How do I know if I have a viable wrongful death claim?
If the deceased person died as the result of another person’s carelessness, recklessness, or negligence, you may have a claim for wrongful death. Seek legal advice from an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney to help you determine whether your claim is viable.
What do I have to prove to receive compensation?
In order to be eligible for compensation in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must show that:
- The defendant owned the deceased person a duty of care.
- This duty was breached.
- The breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the death.
- The death caused the plaintiff to suffer damages.
Generally, to hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet in an injury claim, had they lived.
What damages could I collect in a wrongful death case?
If you are able to successfully prove a wrongful death case, you could be eligible for the following damages:
- Immediate expenses connected to the death (medical and
- Loss of the deceased’s anticipated earnings and future support.
- Loss of benefits related to the victim’s death, such as medical coverage, pension benefits, or inheritance.
- Noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and grief caused by the death.
- Loss of care, protection, and companionship.
- Punitive damages, which are permitted in Colorado if the death “is attended by circumstances of fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct.”
Colorado limits the recovery of noneconomic damages to $250,000, adjusted by inflation on a per claim basis (cannot be multiplied by the number of defendants). As of January 13, 2015, the adjusted cap was $436,070.00. This damages cap does not apply if the death occurred as the result of a “felonious killing.”