The death of an individual caused by the wrongful act, omission or crime of another person is known as wrongful death in Colorado. The justice system permits the filing of a civil cause of action – known as a wrongful death lawsuit – after the preventable death of an individual. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to reimburse the family for related losses, both economic and non-economic. Under Colorado law, however, only certain people can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Colorado Revised Statutes, Section 13-21-202 states that if anyone dies due to an injury that results from the negligence, unskillfulness or criminal intent of another person, the person or party who is guilty of the defect or insufficiency described must pay for related damages. Unlike a criminal case for causing someone else’s death – which aims to punish a defendant for breaking the law – the purpose of a civil wrongful death case is to make the filing party whole again through financial compensation.
According to Colorado law, only certain people have the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While most states allow multiple family members to file this type of lawsuit immediately following the death, Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act only gives this right to a surviving spouse for the first year after the date of death.
In the second year after the death, both the surviving spouse and any surviving children can file a wrongful death lawsuit together, or surviving children may file on their own. Note that if the surviving spouse provides written permission, the decedent’s heirs can file in the first year after the date of death. If the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse or child, surviving parents of the decedent can file a wrongful death lawsuit instead.
Colorado law also allows a designated beneficiary to file a wrongful death cause of action in lieu of a surviving family member. If the decedent left behind a will, he or she may have named a designated beneficiary. If not (as is the case in many wrongful death lawsuits, since the death was unexpected), the courts can assign a beneficiary to be given the right to file a wrongful death claim.
There is a strict deadline known as a statute of limitations on all wrongful death lawsuits in Colorado. State law gives claimants no more than two years from the date of the death to file this type of lawsuit, in most cases. If a family member or designated beneficiary does not file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the death, he or she will give up the right to recover financial compensation, with only a few exceptions.
Once you file a wrongful death claim, it is your responsibility as the plaintiff to prove the elements of the case based on a preponderance of the evidence. You or your attorney must establish the grounds of your lawsuit using clear and convincing evidence. The most common grounds is negligence. In general, proving negligence requires four elements:
Proving these elements requires evidence such as a police report, eyewitness statements, expert testimony and medical records. Colorado law is complicated when it comes to determining the right to file a wrongful death claim and proving liability. Get help with your claim by consulting with a Lakewood wrongful death attorney. An attorney can review your situation, listen to your story and let you know if your case has merit. At James L. Finegan, P.C., our lawyers can evaluate your case for free.