Colorado’s wrongful death laws let families recover damages after a loved one has died as the result of another person’s wrongful act.
Who May Bring the Claim
Colorado limits the individuals who can bring a claim for wrongful death.
Within the first year after the person’s death:
- only the spouse or the heirs with the spouse’s consent;
- if there is no spouse, the heirs of the deceased (children); or
- the designated beneficiary.
In the second year after the person’s death:
- the spouse of the deceased;
- the heirs of the deceased (children); or
- the designated beneficiary.
If the deceased has no spouse and no children, then the parents of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim within two years.
Statute of Limitations
In Colorado, a wrongful death action must be filed within two (2) years of the decedent’s death. This is called a statute of limitations.
If the case is not filed within the two-year period, it is considered lost and no person may file such a case after the period has expired.
A person can sue another for wrongful death when that party committed some wrong that resulted in the death of another person. These wrongs typically include:
- intentional torts;
- criminal acts;
- neglect; or
If the wrongful acts were also criminal acts, a criminal case may be brought by the Colorado prosecutor, but a wrongful death action is civil in nature and is separate from the criminal case.
Both economic and non-economic damages may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado.
Wrongful death non-economic damages are subject to certain “caps” or limits on how much can be awarded. Economic damages are not limited by any caps.
Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Actions
A wrongful death action is a case brought for damages that the loved ones of the deceased suffered.
A survival action is a case brought for damages the decedent suffered before he or she died, i.e., when a person does not die immediately. Survival actions are meant to be brought for causes of action the deceased would have had had he or she survived.
A survival action and wrongful death action can be brought together, and each claim allows for recovery of many of the damages the other action may not allow.
Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about wrongful death lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:
- 1. What is a wrongful death action in Colorado?
- 2. Who may bring a wrongful death action in Colorado?
- 3. What is the statute of limitations for these types of cases?
- 4. What is a wrongful act according to Colorado law?
- 5. What damages can I recover as part of my lawsuit?
- 6. Are there caps on damages in wrongful death claims?
- 7. What is the difference between a wrongful death case and a survival case?
1. What is a wrongful death action in Colorado?
Colorado’s wrongful death laws let families recover damages after a loved one has died as the result of another person’s negligence. This type of case results from an unnecessary death caused by the negligence or other wrongful act of another person.
The purpose of this type of lawsuit is to compensate the decedent’s close family members for their damages. It is not designed to compensate for the actual deceased person for damages.1
2. Who may bring a wrongful death action in Colorado?
Colorado limits the individuals who can bring a claim for wrongful death. Who may bring the claim also depends on how long after the decedent passed the claim is filed.
2.1 Who can file within one year after the decedent passes?
A plaintiff can file within the first year of the person’s death if he or she is:
- the spouse or the heirs (with the spouse’s consent);
- if there is no husband or wife, the heirs of the deceased (children); or
- the designated beneficiary.2
The surviving spouse — if any — has the primary power to bring suit within the first year. The spouse can also elect to allow the heirs or the beneficiary to join the lawsuit within that first year but does not have to do so.
2.2 Who can file within the second year after the decedent passes?
A plaintiff can file within the second year of the person’s death if he or she is:
- the deceased person’s spouse;
- the heirs (children) of the victim; or
- the deceased’s designated beneficiary.3
2.3 Can the parents of the decedent ever file a claim?
Parents of the deceased person may only file a claim for wrongful death if there is no:
- heirs (children); or
- a designated beneficiary.4
If the parents can file, they have an equal share in the damages (regardless of whether the parents are still married). If there is only one surviving parent, that parent is entitled to all the damages.
3. What is the statute of limitations for these types of cases?
A wrongful death action must be filed within two (2) years of the victim’s death.This is outlined in the statute of limitations.
If the case is not filed in that time period, the case can be dismissed, and any right to recovery is lost.
To avoid running into problems with the statute of limitations, you should consult with an experienced attorney as quickly as possible. This is the best way to protect your rights.
4. What is a wrongful act according to Colorado law?
Any act which is illegal or causes harm to another person when it is not that other person’s fault could be considered a “wrongful” act for purposes of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Colorado prosecutors are allowed to prosecute acts which are also crimes. However, the criminal case is different from the civil wrongful death action.
4.1 What is the most common situation for these cases?
The most common situations for creating a wrongful death lawsuit are car accidents.
Example: Tom is driving on the highway when a truck suddenly veers into his lane, causing him to leave the roadway, crash, and be instantly killed. Tom is survived by his wife Cathy and two children. Cathy and his children can file a wrongful death action against the truck driver (and the truck driver’s employer through vicarious liability) for money damages.
5. What damages can I recover as part of my lawsuit?
Both economic and non-economic damages may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado. Certain rules and limitations apply to each.
5.1 What economic damages can I recover?
Economic damages in a wrongful death action include:
- medical bills;
- lost insurance or retirement benefits;
- loss of decedent’s earnings;
- loss of decedent’s services;
- funeral expenses; and
- any property damage which occurred.
5.2 What non-economic damages can I recover?
Non-economic damages recoverable in a wrongful death case include:
- pain and suffering;
- grief and sorrow;
- loss of consortium; and
- punitive damages (in limited cases).
6. Are there caps on damages in wrongful death claims?
Economic damages are not limited by any caps in wrongful death claims. Non-economic damages, however, are subject to certain “caps” or limits on how much can be awarded.
Non-economic damages are capped according to the type of claim. For instance:
- Pain & Suffering is capped at $250,000 (plus inflation) or $500,000 (plus inflation) upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence that it is appropriate. If pain and suffering stem from medical negligence, the damages are capped at $300,000.
- If there is no widow, widower, minor children, or dependent mother or father, the damage cap is set at $250,000 (plus inflation) or, if clear and convincing evidence exists for a higher amount, at $500,000 (plus inflation). This applies to both economic and non-economic damages in this specific situation.6
6.1 Is there an exception to the wrongful death damage caps?
If the death is the result of a “felonious killing,” then no damage caps are imposed.
A “felonious killing” is defined as the killing of a person by an individual who is convicted of, pleads guilty to, or enters a no contest plea to the crime of:
7. What is the difference between a wrongful death case and a survival case?
A wrongful death action is a claim seeking damages suffered by loved ones of the deceased.
A survival action is a case filed for money damages a person incurred before he or she passed away. This occurs in situations where a person survives for a certain period of time before expiring and is in pain during that period of time.
7.1 What damages can I recover in a survival action?
Recoverable damages include:
- loss of earnings prior to death;
- medical bills; and
- other economic damages.
However, in a survival action, damages are not recoverable for:
- pain and suffering;
- or profits lost after death.9
A survival action and wrongful death action can be brought together, and each claim allows for recovery of many of the damages the other does not allow.10
Call us for help…
For questions about wrongful death cases or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. (For claims in California or Nevada, please visit our pages on wrongful death claims in California and wrongful death claims in Nevada).
We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.
- CRS 13-21-202 (Action notwithstanding death).
- CRS 13-21-201(1)(a) (Damages for death).
- CRS 13-21-201(1)(b).
- CRS 13-21-201(1)(c) (“If the deceased is an unmarried minor without descendants or an unmarried adult without descendants and without a designated beneficiary pursuant to article 22 of title 15, C.R.S., by the father or mother who may join in the suit. Except as provided in subparagraphs (II) and (III) of this paragraph (c), the father and mother shall have an equal interest in the judgment, or if either of them is dead, then the surviving parent shall have an exclusive interest in the judgment.”).
- Same as 2.
- CRS 13-21-203 (Limitation on Damages).
- CRS 15-11-803(1)(b) (Effect of homicide on intestate succession, wills, trusts, joint assets, life insurance, and beneficiary designations).
- CRS 13-20-101 (What actions survive).
- CRS 13-20-101 (“the damages recoverable after the death of the person in whose favor such action has accrued shall be limited to loss of earnings and expenses sustained or incurred prior to death and shall not include damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement, nor prospective profits or earnings after the date of death.”).
- CRS 13-20-101 (An action under this section shall not preclude an action for wrongful death under part 2 of article 21 of this title.).