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Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Claims

Denver Trial Lawyers

Under Colorado statutory law, when a person’s wrongful or neglectful act results in the death of another person, they may be liable for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. This blog answers the most frequently asked questions about wrongful death claims.

Q: Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The deceased’s spouse or their heir or heirs have standing to file a wrongful death claim. While most personal injury lawsuits give the injured party the right to sue the at-fault party for their injuries, a wrongful death claim is a “derivative” lawsuit because the plaintiff’s right to sue the defendant derives from the decedent’s right to do so, but for the fact of his or her death.

Q: What Damages Can Be Recovered for Wrongful Death?

The plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit may collect compensatory damages for economic and non-economic losses. In cases where the decedent’s death involved fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct on the part of the defendant, exemplary damages are available.

Economic losses involve monetary costs, including:

  • Medical and hospital expenses;
  • Funeral expenses; and
  • Lost past and future earnings

Examples of non-economic losses available in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Grief;
  • Loss of companionship;
  • Pain and suffering; and
  • Emotional stress.

Q: What Are Exemplary Damages?

Exemplary damages are awarded to the plaintiff in a wrongful death claim to make an “example” out of the defendant for conduct reaching a particular level of wrong. However, an award of exemplary damages requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to circumstances amounting to fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct.[1] Conversely, compensatory damages only need proof by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant negligently caused the decedent’s death.

Q: What is the Effect of a Prior Criminal Proceeding?

If the defendant was successfully convicted of a crime involving the same acts and circumstances implicated in a successive wrongful death lawsuit, they could be automatically liable for compensatory and exemplary damages in the wrongful death suit. However, pleas are a different story.

Evidence of pleas in prior related criminal proceeding plea is inadmissible in the following situations:

  • A  guilty plea that was later withdrawn;
  • An admission of the charge that was later withdrawn;
  • A plea of nolo contendere;
  • An offer to make a plea; and
  • Statements made while negotiating a plea bargain.

Significantly, the defendant’s acquittal for a crime regarding the decedent’s death does not necessarily preclude a finding that the defendant was liable for damages in a successive wrongful death claim. However, an acquittal might bar an award for exemplary damages.

Q: How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In general, wrongful death actions “must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter…”A wrongful death cause of action accrues on the date of the decedent’s death.

However, if the decedent’s death resulted from a hit-and-run while the defendant was driving under the influence, a wrongful death claim arising from such circumstances must be filed within four (4) years after the decedent’s death.

Q: Where Can I Find an Experienced Denver Wrongful Death Attorney?

At Denver Trial Lawyers, we have experience representing Denver residents in a multitude of personal injury cases, including wrongful death claims. Our legal team has a deep understanding of the law to ensure your best interests are protected. We understand the sensitive nature and emotional challenges of losing a loved one. That is why you can rely on us for compassionate legal representation, treating your feelings and experiences with the utmost respect and discretion.

To schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable wrongful death lawyers, call Denver Trial Lawyers at (303) 586-3638 or contact us online today.