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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?

The unexpected death of a loved one is an awful experience that causes severe heartache and a long grieving period. Another person’s intentional act or negligence causing your loved one’s death only worsens matters.

Filing a claim and dealing with the process of going to court may be the last thing you want to do. Compensation will never make up for the loss of a close family member, but it can help with the financial burdens of unexpectedly losing someone you rely on for support.

If someone’s negligence caused the death of a loved one, understanding who is entitled to file a wrongful death claim in Colorado will help you start your claim. An empathetic attorney will focus on the court process so you can focus on grieving your loved one.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

According to the Colorado Revised Statutes, individuals who act negligently are liable for damages if their victim dies. This standard is commonly referred to as a wrongful death claim. In other words, if someone’s negligent action causes the death of a loved one, then you may be entitled to compensation in a wrongful death. The purpose of wrongful death claims is to compensate families for the consequences they suffer when a close family member dies.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Colorado law dictates who can bring a wrongful death claim based on the relationships of the deceased and the amount of time that has passed. The state gives the highest priority to those who most relied financially on the deceased, in most cases, their spouse. If multiple people file wrongful death claims regarding the same event, the law prioritizes some claims over others. 

First Year After Wrongful Death

Within a year after a wrongful death, the spouse has the sole right to recover damages from a wrongful death claim. This standard prioritizes the person who suffers the most severe financial consequences. However, a surviving spouse has some flexibility regarding who else they allow to join the lawsuit. 

Upon written election by the surviving spouse, the deceased’s heirs can become part of the lawsuit. This provision allows a surviving spouse to join with the surviving heirs to bring a suit together. The deceased’s spouse can also let surviving heirs file the lawsuit alone. This decision is solely that of the surviving spouse.

If there is no surviving spouse, the person the deceased designated as their beneficiary has the right to recover damages.

In the absence of a surviving spouse and a named beneficiary, the surviving heirs have the right to file a wrongful death claim by themselves. It is important to note Colorado law defines heirs only to include the children of the deceased. 

Second Year After Wrongful Death

After a year, the surviving spouse no longer has sole authority to determine who can bring a wrongful death suit. At this point, a named beneficiary or the heirs of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim on their own. Notably, a surviving spouse can still bring forward a wrongful death claim on their own after a year has passed.

There are also special rules to consider if heirs initiate a wrongful death on their own. In these cases, a surviving spouse, a named beneficiary, or both can join the lawsuit. To do so, they must file a motion expressing their desire to join the case within 90 days of the surviving heirs initiating their claim. 

Parents and Siblings of the Deceased

Under special circumstances, the deceased’s parents can recover damages for wrongful death. Parents can file a wrongful death claim only if there is no surviving spouse, named beneficiary, or heirs. When parents file a lawsuit, they are each entitled to an equal share of the damages. 

During cases in which the parents are divorced, separated, or living apart, either parent can request that the court fairly apportion any damages awarded in the case. When this happens, the court will hold a hearing and determine how to apportion the judgment between the parents.  

Siblings of the deceased are not entitled to compensation for wrongful death in Colorado. A sibling can file a wrongful death claim only if they are a named beneficiary of the deceased.

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Colorado has a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims. This limit means you will have up until two years after the victim’s death to file your claim. Any claims filed after the two-year window can be dismissed outright, and you can lose any right to collect damages. 

What Damages Can You Recover

Economic and non-economic damages are the most common form of compensation in wrongful death claims. The court sometimes awards punitive damages as well. 

Economic damages make up for the financial losses suffered by the plaintiff. These damages include:

  • Loss of the deceased’s earnings,
  • Loss of the deceased’s services,
  • Lost benefits,
  • Medical bills,
  • Funeral expenses, and
  • Lost wages.

Non-Economic damages compensate for injuries to the plaintiff that are harder to quantify. These damages include:

Punitive damages punish the defendant for egregiously wrong conduct that goes above and beyond simple negligence.

Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C. Can Help

Wrongful death lawsuits are often complicated to prove. The claims usually involve an in-depth examination of the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death. Given the time constraints imposed by the statute of limitations, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. 

The attorneys at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover have over 100 years of experience handling accident cases. We will take the time to get to know you and the facts of your case. Our skill, experience, and empathetic approach will give you the confidence that your case is in the right hands. Contact Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, and we will work hard so that you can focus on your recovery.

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