Wrongful Death Damages in Colorado
If you have recently experienced the death of a loved one, you and your family are probably reeling from emotional shock. If that death was caused by the irresponsible actions of a person or company, you are probably also wondering how you can prevent the negligent party from behaving this way again so that no other family will need to endure the same grief that yours is currently feeling. Below are a few items you may want to consider as you decide whether you want to pursue a legal claim for wrongful death damages in Colorado.
Who Has the Right to Bring These Lawsuits?
It is important to note that in Colorado, not all surviving family members have equal rights to file civil suits on behalf of a deceased person. For example, if the person killed was married, the surviving spouse is the only one who can bring a suit if it has been less than one year since the death. After that time period has passed, surviving children have standing to bring a wrongful death claim. Because of the technicality of these laws, there may be some details that need to be addressed in order to determine whether a particular family member has the right to file a suit for wrongful death damages.
Damages Available in Colorado Wrongful Death Claims
The type and amount of wrongful death damages available to you under Colorado law are largely dependent on the unique facts of your case. In most cases, potential damages for wrongful death include economic and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages compensate families for monetary losses caused by their loved one’s wrongful death. These damages are for actual costs that would not have been incurred if not for the accident that resulted in death. Economic damages include expenses associated with the accident that resulted in death and the family’s reliance on the income of the decedent.
Noneconomic damages relate to the mental and emotional harm caused by a death. For example, the loss of a parent would likely have a negative impact on a young child who will now be deprived of parental companionship and love. Noneconomic damages make this loss compensable. Other types of noneconomic damages include pain and suffering, depression, post-traumatic stress, loss of consortium, and more.
In some situations, exemplary, also called “punitive,” damages may also be available. These are only imposed when the behavior that caused the accident was egregious or when a court wants to use monetary damages to punish wrongful behavior and deter similar behavior. Exemplary damages are often imposed in cases where a large company caused the death, and because of their size and earnings, actual damages alone would not be a strong enough deterrent to the behavior.
How to Calculate Wrongful Death Damages
Damages are awarded based on the circumstances of the death. It is important to keep a thorough record of all expenses related to the accident and care leading up to the death of your loved one. Damages for the future loss of income will be based on your loved one’s role as a provider in the family, their contribution at the time of death, and a professional estimate of their earning potential. This calculation also considers their age at the time of death and employment-related benefits.
Wrongful death damages also consider the emotional component of losing a loved one. This is more subjective, which means that you will need to work with your attorney to determine the best way to demonstrate the role the decedent played in your life and why they were important to you.
Caps on Damages for Wrongful Death in Colorado
Colorado law does place some limitations on damages for wrongful death lawsuits. Noneconomic damages generally cannot exceed $250,000 adjusted for inflation. The cap for wrongful death claims accruing between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2024, is $598,350. However, exceptions can be made if warranted by the circumstances. There is no limit on economic damages. These are dependent on the economic losses unique to your case.
Medical negligence cases are distinct from other types of Colorado wrongful death cases. Noneconomic damages in those cases are capped at $300,000. Felonious killing (first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or manslaughter) is not subject to this cap.
Proving Wrongful Death Damages in Colorado
It is important to work with your Colorado wrongful death attorney to determine the best strategy for proving your case. You will first need to prove that the death was caused by someone else’s behavior. This is the foundation for a personal injury claim. Your attorney will also be able to help you gather crucial evidence and determine who was liable for the death.
When it comes to proving actual damages, one of the best places to start is gathering all records of expenses related to your loved one’s accident. You will also need financial records, such as pay stubs and income tax documents, to prove their contribution to the household and responsibility for any dependents. An expert may be needed to attest to the decedent’s earning potential.
Noneconomic wrongful death damages will require you to attest to your personal relationship with the decedent. If you barely knew them and did not spend time together, you will be eligible for less than if they were an integral part of your life. If you are the spouse of the decedent, the health of your marriage could potentially be questioned. Because noneconomic damages can be difficult to prove, Colorado does provide the option of a flat award for $50,000 adjusted for inflation. Your attorney can advise on the best option for your situation.
Contact a Boulder Wrongful Death Attorney
If you feel that you may be entitled to damages for wrongful death, you may wish to consult with a wrongful death attorney in your area. Sometimes these cases can become quite complex, and a lawyer can help you to understand what the process can entail and what you should expect as you pursue a claim. Call (303) 447-1144 now to schedule a FREE case consultation with an experienced Boulder wrongful death lawyer at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C.
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