The preventable death of a loved one is an unfathomable loss. If someone else’s negligent, reckless or intentional actions caused the death of a family member, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death lawsuit can help you financially, bring awareness to your loved one’s death, and warn others about committing reckless actions.
Our Boulder wrongful death attorneys at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C. have been helping accident victims and their family members for decades. We understand that grieving family members are under a tremendous amount of stress, so we work with vigilance and compassion to help them pursue justice.
Here, we’ll explain specifics involved in filing a wrongful death lawsuit and tell you what compensation may be available.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
Colorado law defines a wrongful death as a death caused by “a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.” A wrongful death claim is like an extension of a personal injury claim.
If the victim had lived and could have brought a personal injury claim, then the surviving family can file a wrongful death action to seek compensation for the financial and emotional harm caused by their loved one’s death.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death Accidents
A wrongful death can be caused by many incidents, from an accident to a murder. In our practice, we commonly see wrongful deaths occur in the following circumstances:
Distracted drivers and drivers who are under the influence or speeding can cause deadly accidents. Drivers have a duty to drive responsibly, and when their actions cause a death, they must pay. A wrongful death lawsuit can hold a reckless driver responsible.
There are over 13,000 trucking companies in Colorado, employing more than 110,000 people. Trucks can cause deadly accidents on busy roadways if a driver doesn’t show the required caution.
Other drivers must pay attention to motorcyclists on Colorado roadways. Motorcyclists are more vulnerable to severe injuries and death in a crash due to their lack of protection..
Slip and Falls
While many do not consider slip and falls to be serious, in reality these accidents can be deadly. If a business or property owner ignores hazardous conditions, it can lead to an accident. Businesses have commercial insurance policies that may offer a significant settlement for the loss of a loved one.
Conditions on the slopes aren’t always safe. Skiers can be injured or killed by other skiers, ski resort negligence, or equipment malfunction.
Ski accident law has unique rules compared to other personal injury and wrongful death law, and pursuing a claim requires a ski accident attorney knowledgeable in this area.
What’s the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Suit and Criminal Prosecution?
A person can be criminally prosecuted and sued in civil court for damages for the same act or failure to act that caused a death. A criminal prosecution is separate from a civil lawsuit, and both actions can proceed at the same time.
An example of this would be the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, in which the defendant was found not guilty of murder in the criminal trial, but in the civil lawsuit brought by the family of Ron Goldman, the defendant was found liable for substantial money damages.
The State of Colorado prosecutes people accused of committing a crime. Criminal homicide charges range from manslaughter to murder and are punishable by fines and imprisonment.. Criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even if a person is acquitted of criminal charges, you can file a wrongful death suit. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, which seeks money for surviving family members.
A civil lawsuit also brings a lower burden of proof, meaning it is easier to find someone liable for wrongful death than to find them criminally guilty of homicide. A wrongful death lawsuit requires proof by only a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for the death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?
Colorado law determines who can file a wrongful death claim based on their relationship with the victim and the timing of the lawsuit. Wrongful Death Claims can be very complicated, and Colorado law allows only one lawsuit to be filed, regardless of the number of defendants or claimants.
Up to One Year After the Death
In the first year after the person’s death, a very restricted group of people can file a claim.
If it has been less than a year after the person’s death and the victim has a surviving spouse, only the surviving spouse can file a wrongful death lawsuit. There is an exception to this rule—if the surviving spouse gives written permission, the deceased’s children can join the spouse’s claim or to file their own claim.
No surviving spouse
If the deceased has no surviving spouse, the deceased’s children or a designated beneficiary can bring the lawsuit. Either way, Colorado allows only one wrongful death suit per decedent, regardless of the number of surviving family members.
More Than One Year After the Death
Between one and two years after the victim’s death, the following people can bring a wrongful death claim:
- The surviving spouse,
- The deceased’s children,
- The surviving spouse and the deceased’s children together, or
- The designated beneficiary and the deceased’s children together.
If the deceased’s children file a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving spouse and the beneficiary can join that action within 90 days. When a wrongful death victim has no spouse, children, or designated beneficiary, the deceased’s parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Compensation Is Available For Wrongful Death?
In a wrongful death claim, surviving family members seek compensation for their loss, which is usually paid by an insurance company.
Potential wrongful death damages include:
- Economic Loss, including funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, and lost income the decedent would have earned.
- Non-economic loss, including grief, loss of companionship, pain, suffering and emotional distress of surviving family members.
Caps on Damages for Wrongful Death
Colorado caps the damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit. The capped amount is adjusted every two years and is currently $571,870 for noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering).
An exception applies for first or second-degree murder or manslaughter, which is called a “Felonious Killing” — in that situation, there is no cap on noneconomic damages. Also, there is no cap on economic damages, such as funeral expenses and lost wages, if applicable.
When Should You Contact a Boulder Wrongful Death Attorney?
Colorado law provides only a limited time for family members to file a wrongful death claim. The statute of limitations is two years from the date of the death.
However, when someone is killed in a hit-and-run accident, their family has four years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. After the statute of limitations expires, you cannot bring a wrongful death action.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Boulder, CO
If you are considering pursuing a wrongful death claim, don’t take on this additional burden on your own. Instead, contact an experienced Boulder wrongful death attorney for advice.
At Sloat, Nicholson, & Hoover, P.C., we offer a free consultation, and you will not pay us anything unless we settle or win your claim. We care about our community and strive to provide excellent representation to people experiencing pain, tragedy, and grief. Contact us today to learn more.