What You Need to Know About Filing a Colorado Wrongful Death Claim
On October 4, a 19-year-old Colorado woman died from complications from cardiac arrest caused by surgery for breast augmentation conducted more than a year earlier.
Fourteen months earlier, the patient was allegedly left unattended for about 15 minutes after staff administered general anesthesia — even though the standard of care for anesthesia requires a qualified staff member to remain at bedside to monitor vital signs. While left alone, the patient went into prolonged cardiac arrest. Although she would be resuscitated twice and given reversal medication, she suffered anoxic brain damage.
Now her parents are suing her attending plastic surgeon, nurse anesthetist, and registered nurse for wrongful death in the state of Colorado. They say that even after a nurse observed the woman’s condition, her doctor told staff not to call 911, and that the call was finally made only after almost six hours had elapsed.
Colorado Wrongful Death Act
When someone dies because of the negligence of another person, loved ones may be entitled to sue to recover monetary damages under the provisions of the Colorado Wrongful Death Act.
In Colorado, persons who may be entitled to sue include the decedent’s spouse, heirs, a designated beneficiary, or the surviving parents of an unmarried or childless person. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is two years from the death of the victim, time that can be extended if the plaintiff is disabled or the defendant fraudulently concealed relevant facts.
During the first year after the death, only the decedent’s spouse is entitled to file a claim on his own behalf and on behalf of the children. If the decedent died without a spouse, heirs, or a designated beneficiary, his parents may file a claim. During the second year, any spouse, heir, or designated beneficiary may file a lawsuit, either separately or with another eligible person.
Damages Available in a Colorado Wrongful Death Case
In general, three kinds of damages may be recovered in a wrongful death suit:
- These are the costs to survivors and the financial contributions to the survivors that the deceased person would have made had he lived. Economic damages may include the loss of the decedent’s earnings and benefits and the costs of the funeral and medical care.
- These are intangible damages such as pain and suffering and the loss of care, advice, nurturing, companionship, and consortium. Colorado law currently limits the noneconomic damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit to $571,870. (The amount is periodically adjusted for inflation.)
- Punitive damages punish the responsible party for his negligence. Although not available in all states, since 2000 Colorado has permitted punitive damages in the case of a wrongful death if the defendant’s conduct has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be willful and wanton.
- The plaintiffs in a wrongful death suit may also be eligible for a solatium of, currently, $114,370 as an alternative to noneconomic damages. But a plaintiff cannot collect both.
Because Colorado follows a rule of modified comparative fault, a plaintiff must also prove that the decedent’s degree of fault is less than that of the person who allegedly caused his death. If the decedent is found to be 50 percent or more at fault for his own death, his loved ones will not recover damages.
Are you considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado? Contact Colorado personal injury lawyer Dan Rosen at (303) 454-8000 or (800) ROSEN-911 to schedule a free consultation.