How to file a wrongful death lawsuit for negligence – what you should know, hiring the right lawyer in CO
A wrongful death can happen faster than we can blink. Maybe it was a car accident on the highway in Denver. Perhaps it was a medical malpractice case, which has its own complicated rules to follow. It could have been a particularly bad slip and fall – something small and innocuous, almost impossible to believe.
Bad things happen, and then we want someone to blame. It’s not like a criminal case when we can send someone to prison. We want justice, but how do we get it?
In these sorts of cases, we get it through financial compensation. And that is where wrongful death suits come into play.
What does filing a wrongful death lawsuit mean?
A wrongful death is one that was caused by the negligence of another individual or entity.
These deaths can occur because of a variety of situations: car accidents, defective products, pedestrian collisions, medical malpractice and much more. Basically, if it can occur because of someone’s neglect or carelessness, it can be sued for.
The filing of these types of lawsuits illustrates that you are demanding financial compensation to help offset losses you’ve experienced from the negligent death of your loved one and that you seek justice for their premature passing.
What’s the difference between murder and wrongful death?
Murders and wrongful deaths are two very different crimes.
A murder is an intentional action that ends another person’s life, generally pre-planned, though there are such things as negligent homicides. There are different degrees of murder depending on how much premeditation there was prior to the death.
A wrongful death, on the other hand, is an accident caused by somebody’s carelessness or neglect. They are compensated financially by civil courts in order to offset a grieving family’s non-economic and economic losses. Murders, conversely, are judged in criminal courts and punished by juries; defendants can be sent to prison or even executed in certain jurisdictions.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado?
In Colorado, the Wrongful Death Act, Statute Section 13-21-202 that the decedent’s surviving spouse is the only person who can bring a wrongful death claim during the first year after the date of death.
During the second year, both the surviving spouse and any surviving children can bring a wrongful death claim.
If the decedent left no surviving spouse or children, then the surviving parents are allowed to file an action.
As you can see, there are some complications here, so you want to make sure that you do this correctly.
In Colorado, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death. Under certain circumstances, this can be “tolled,” or postponed. You would need to speak to an attorney about that.
What damages can I collect from a wrongful death claim?
As wrongful death claims are brought in civil court, they are resolved solely through monetary means. Unfortunately, in Colorado, non-economic damages have caps. Let’s lay them all out below.
Colorado Damage Caps
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Damages include, but are not limited to:
- Funeral and medical expenses;
- Loss of the decedent’s income and services;
- Pain and suffering (capped at $250,000); and
- Emotional loss and the loss of companionship (capped at $250,000).
The good thing is that Colorado does allow for punitive damages if the defendant’s actions were willful or reckless.
The other important question to ask in a wrongful death claim is if the defendant has an insurance policy or access to money. If that individual or entity does not have coverage, there might not be any way to make them pay for what they did. This would be a question to discuss with a qualified lawyer.
Is there a difference between the death of a child and the death of an adult?
Determining the value of a life by monetary means is vulgar and crass. Determining whether a child or an adult is worth more is even worse. However, courts do it every day.
Parents’ damages after the loss of their child are unfortunately limited to their financial damages, which are likely to be small. Children have not contributed to the household, and they have not had any sort of income. Their loss is terrible and painful, but courts think in dollars and cents. They will be using actuarial charts, and the damages will determined by the child’s life expectancy, health and earning potential.
For an adult who has made Social Security contributions versus a child who has not, an actuary can make determinations based on potential earning capacity. A lot of it is left up to cold, unfeeling speculation.
What to look for in a Colorado wrongful death attorney
Finding the right attorney will offer you a measure of comfort during what is undoubtedly a tumultuous, terrible time in your life. It is important to choose someone you feel at ease with, who will go the extra mile for you, and who will make sure your case is a top priority.
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format
Read reviews from a variety of clients, and see how much experience the attorney has in dealing with wrongful death cases.
Resources to help you hire the best Colorado wrongful death lawyer
If you have lost a loved one and you need some extra assistance, here are some resources to help you through this difficult time:
- How to hire the right Colorado personal injury lawyer
- Why should I hire a Colorado personal injury lawyer? (Are they optional? What do they actually do?)
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- When do you NOT need an attorney after an accident?
- How to talk to a lawyer
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.