What Damages Are Available, and Who Can Recover Them
Wrongful death claims can involve a wide variety of circumstances, including fatal car accidents, medical malpractice, or harm attributed to a dangerous or defective product. Regardless of the situation, when a death occurs due to another party’s negligence, the family of the deceased person can pursue compensation through what is known as a wrongful death lawsuit.
All states, including Colorado, allow immediate family members such as spouses, birth and adopted children, and the parents of unmarried children to recover damages via a wrongful death lawsuit. A representative may also file a wrongful death claim in Colorado on behalf of survivors who have suffered damages resulting from the untimely death.
Depending upon individual state law, the following survivors may also be able to seek compensation in some jurisdictions:
- Life or domestic partners
- Financial dependents, even if they are not related to the victim by blood or marriage
- Putative spouses
- Distant family members, such as siblings and grandparents
- Parents of a deceased fetus.
According to the Colorado Wrongful Death Act, the primary reason for a wrongful death action is to allow those who were economically dependent upon the deceased person to recover monetary damages. Siblings are not allowed to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado.
Damages Available in a Colorado Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The damages recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit vary according to state law. In Colorado, several types of damages can be awarded in wrongful death cases, such as:
Economic damages. The financial contributions that the victim would have made to the survivors if he or she had survived, economic damages might include the following:
- Medical and end-of-life expenses related to the death.
- Loss of the deceased person’s earnings over the course of his or her expected lifetime.
- Forfeiture of the victim’s benefits, including pension plans and health insurance.
- Loss of an expected inheritance.
- The estimated value of goods and services the deceased person would have provided to the survivors.
Non-economic damages. Although more difficult to put a dollar value on, non-economic damages can total more than economic damages, and could include:
- Pain, suffering, and mental anguish resulting from the victim’s wrongful death.
- Loss of care, protection, guidance, advice, training, and nurturing.
- A spouse or partner’s loss of love, society, companionship, and consortium.
As of January 13, 2015, recovery for non-economic damages is limited to $436,070 in Colorado, but the cap does not apply if the death was the result of a felonious killing.
Solatium. Under Colorado law, the plaintiff is eligible to choose what is known as a solatium in the amount of $87,210 as an alternative to an award for non-economic damages (but only in addition to economic damages). A solatium covers damages such as loss of companionship, consortium, pain and suffering, and mental distress as opposed to physical injury.
Punitive damages. Exemplary, or punitive, damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for conduct that is considered particularly bad or offensive, but punitive damages are not available in wrongful death actions in all states. Historically, Colorado did not allow for the recovery of punitive damages, but since 2000 the state has at times permitted them, if the defendant’s conduct was proven to be willful and wanton, beyond a reasonable doubt.