How Loved Ones Can Be Compensated for Their Loss
A wrongful death lawsuit enables family members to obtain compensation for the loss of a loved one from a person who can be held liable for the death.
Who is entitled to wrongful death damages?
During the first year after the death, the surviving spouse is the only person eligible to bring a wrongful death action for his own benefit, for the benefit of the decedent’s heirs, or on behalf of a designated beneficiary. If the spouse is able to recover damages, he is expected to distribute the proceeds accordingly.
In the second year after the death, the spouse, heirs, or designated beneficiary may each bring a suit separately or together. If the deceased person was unmarried and had no children and no designated beneficiary, his parents are also entitled to file a claim at that time.
Compensation in a Colorado Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Colorado wrongful death claims arise from a variety of causes, including fatal car accidents, medical malpractice, or dangerous or defective products. The damages available are determined by state law. In Colorado, the forms of available compensation are as follows:
Economic Damages. Damages can be recovered for funeral expenses as well as for losses that a wrongful death plaintiff and those whom they represent might have reasonably expected to receive from the deceased person if he had lived. Such damages are calculated on the basis of the decedent’s age, health, life expectancy, capacity to earn money, and propensity to offer help to the plaintiff and others represented.
Noneconomic Damages. Although sometimes more difficult to prove, non-economic damages can be worth more than economic damages. They may include a partner or family member’s pain, suffering, and emotional distress; loss of care, protection, nurturing, support, advice, and training; and a partner’s loss of love, society, companionship, and consortium. In Colorado, compensation for economic damages in a wrongful death case is limited to about $613,760.
Solatium. The Colorado Wrongful Death Act provides for a set solatium award in lieu of noneconomic damages. Formerly capped at $68,250, the solatium, which is adjusted for inflation, is now valued at $114,370. If the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit chooses a solatium award instead of noneconomic damages, he needs to prove only liability, not also the extent of his noneconomic damages.
Prejudgment Interest. Colorado allows survivors to recover prejudgment interest at the rate of 9 percent on personal injuries, including wrongful death. In wrongful death lawsuits, loss accrues from the time of the death.
Exemplary Damages. Under Colorado law, exemplary or punitive damages are permitted when the death is “attended by circumstances of fraud, malice, or willful conduct.” The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer for conduct considered especially bad or offensive. They cannot be included in the initial wrongful death complaint. But with the approval of the trial court, they may be added by amendment 60 days after the exchange of initial disclosures.
Under the provisions of the Colorado collateral source rule, even if an insurance policy or some other collateral source pays medical expenses, the at-fault party is still liable for his actions and must repay the entity that initially reimbursed the plaintiff.
If you have questions regarding the damages that may be recovered in a Colorado wrongful death action, contact Dan Rosen at (303) 963-9906 or (800) ROSEN-911 to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.