Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Who Can Make a Legal Claim? What Can They Recover?

Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Who Can Make a Legal Claim? What Can They Recover?

Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Who Can Make a Legal Claim? What Can They Recover?

Laws vary a lot on a state-by-state basis, especially when it comes to personal injury or wrongful death. Colorado, like most states, has a unique set of rules concerning wrongful death lawsuits. That’s why you need an experienced law firm on your side.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

In Colorado, wrongful deaths are covered by C.R.S. §§ 13-21-201 to 13-21-204. Under those statutes, a wrongful death is defined as a death where, if the victim had survived, they would have been entitled to damages against the person or entity that caused their death.

In layman’s terms, think of a wrongful death case as a personal injury case where the injured person is not able to file suit on their own behalf. Instead, another party has to file that case on their behalf.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?

Colorado law has some very specific rules about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and when those individuals can file it.

  • If the deceased person was married, their spouse is the only person who can file a wrongful death claim in the first year following their death.
  • The heir or heirs of the deceased person can make a claim (with or without the spouse), but if there is a spouse then the heirs can only make their claim after a year from the date of death has passed.
  • If the deceased left no spouse or children, then the deceased person’s parents can file a claim.
  • The decedent’s “designated beneficiary” can also make a claim (with or without the spouse)
  • In all cases, wrongful death lawsuits in Colorado must be filed within two years of death.
  • Who is included among the heirs of the deceased? In a recent case the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that:

    an adult adoptee is a “lineal descendant” of the adoptive parent and therefore an “heir” of that parent within the meaning of section 13-21-201(1)(b)(I)(B), C.R.S. 2018, of the Wrongful Death Act. Thus, an adult adoptee can assert a wrongful death claim on behalf of the decedent parent in the second year after that person’s death.

    What this means is that for the purposes of Colorado’s wrongful death laws, there is no distinction between adoptive children and biological children — a victory for both adoptive children and their parents.

    The representative of a deceased person’s estate might also file a “survival action” — a claim to recover damages for the estate itself. Such damages typically include medical bills incurred by the decedent prior to the time of death, regardless of whether the death resulted from the defendant’s conduct.

    Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

    Damages awarded in a wrongful death claim will be assessed by the jury or, in a case where there is no jury, by a judge. The exact amount awarded will depend on the specific facts of the case, but the plaintiffs in a wrongful death case will likely seek damages for one or more of the following:

  • Lost wages and other compensation that the deceased would have earned if they had lived;
  • Non-economic loss, including grief, loss of companionship, impairment of the quality of life, inconvenience, pain and suffering, and emotional distress; and
  • Punitive (or exemplary) damages, when allowed by the court.
  • In a survival action, the representatives of the estate of the deceased can also file suit for damages to the estate of the deceased itself. These may include medical, hospital, and emergency expenses incurred by the deceased, in addition to funeral and burial expenses.

    In addition to compensatory damages, some cases might pursue punitive damages. While compensatory damages are based on an attempt to assess the economic and non-economic losses actually suffered as a result of the death, punitive damages are intended to punish the party at fault for their actions that resulted in death.

    Mintz Law Firm Can Help

    With over 150 years combined experience in the personal injury field, the attorneys at Mintz Law Firm can help you navigate the complicated landscape of wrongful death lawsuits. If you have lost a loved one, we urge you to reach out to us for a free case evaluation that will determine whether a wrongful death claim is the best move for you.

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