In Colorado, when a person is killed and the death was the result of the negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct of another person or a company, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against the person or entity that is liable for the death. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil suit for determining liability for an unnecessary death.
Most Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths
There are a number of accidents and actions that can result in the wrongful death of a person. Many of the most common causes of a wrongful death are similar to personal injury claims, and in effect, a wrongful death is a personal injury that was fatal. Some of the most common causes of wrongful death in Colorado include:
- Motor vehicle accidents. Motor vehicle accidents can be caused by drunk, reckless, and negligent driving on the part of another person, or by defective or malfunctioning equipment on the vehicle, such as bad brakes or faulty tires, which would place liability for the accident on the manufacturer of the faulty or bad part.
- Bicycle accidents. A number of bicycles are involved in accidents with motorized vehicles each year. Often a motor vehicle driver does not see the bicyclist until it is too late, and hits the bicyclist with his or her vehicle. If the accident is fatal, the driver could be held liable.
- Aviation, railroad and nautical accidents. When a person dies while on board some form of transportation, such as an airliner, train or a cruise ship, the airline, rail service or the cruise line can be held liable for the deaths of any of its patrons.
- Unsafe, defective or dangerous products. Unsafe, defective or dangerous consumer products can cause fatal injuries, even if the product was used according to the instructions. Manufactures, retailers and designers can all be held liable for the unintended deaths of consumers that use their products.
- Accidental slips, trips or falls. When a fall, slip or trip is the result of another person’s or company’s negligence, they may be liable for a death. For instance, if a business establishment is notified about an icy patch in front of its store, and yet fails to take any action to correct the problem, the company could be held liable if a customer slips on the ice and dies.
- Workplace accidents. Workers can be fatally injured while on the job. Exposure to toxic or fatal substances, accidental explosions, fatal injuries involving equipment, are all examples of when workers could be killed in the workplace.
- Construction site accidents. Any number of things can go wrong on a construction site. An individual could improperly handle equipment that causes a fatal injury to another. Heavy equipment or materials could fall on a worker. These are just a few examples of construction site accidents that can be fatal.
- Medical malpractice. Death that results from medical malpractice can be due to the negligence of a doctor, nurse, hospital or other medical professional and a failure to provide treatment and care in alignment with the acceptable standard of care.
- Criminal acts committed by another. Criminal acts that result in an unnecessary death can be the basis for a wrongful death claim. This is the case if the death was intentional, or if the death was an unintended consequence of the criminal activity.
- Death that occurs during a supervised activity. If the decedent was under the supervision of another at the time of the death, the person who was supposed to be supervising the activities of the decedent, and in some cases his or her employer, may be held liable for the wrongful death.
Who Can Be A Wrongful Death Claimant
Who may bring a wrongful death claim is limited to a select few close relatives of the decedent. There is a hierarchy as to who may file a wrongful death suit in Colorado, as well as a time frame in which the wrongful death suit may be brought. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action requires that all wrongful death actions must be brought within two years of when the death occurs.
- Surviving Spouse. A surviving spouse is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and he or she is the only person who may file the wrongful death suit within the first year after the death occurs. The surviving spouse’s right to bring a wrongful death action in the first year is exclusive, meaning no one else may bring one within the first year.
- Surviving Children. Surviving children are eligible to file a wrongful death claim in the second year after the death. The surviving spouse may also sue within the second year after the death.
- Surviving Parents. In situations where the decedent leaves no surviving spouse or children, the decedent’s parents are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and the parents may file at any time within the two year statute of limitations.
- Decedent’s Estate Representative. The decedent’s estate representative is also eligible to file a survival action against the party that is liable for the death, in order to recover damages for certain losses to the estate. These losses may include expenses associated with medical care related to the decedent’s final injury or illness before the death, and/or funeral expenses. The decedent’s estate representative may make a survival action, in addition to the surviving family member’s wrongful death actions.
Wrongful Death Damages
When a wrongful death case is decided in favor of the claimant, the claimant is entitled to monetary damages for the wrongful death. The amount in total that is awarded depends on the facts of the case. Wrongful death damages that may be sought by surviving family members include:
- The value of the lost of wages and other financial compensation that the decedent would have earned if his or her life hadn’t been cut short.
- The value of other benefits that were lost as a result of the death, for example life insurance.
- Loss of love, affection, protection, companionship, care, comfort and assistance of the decedent.
- In limited circumstances, surviving family members may also seek punitive damages, in addition to the damages for their loss.