Losing a loved one because of the wrongdoing, negligence, or willful acts of another is indeed devastating. The victim’s family and loved ones are put in a tough position mentally, emotionally, and even financially. All the problems and emotions pile up and you lose the time and energy to properly grieve and move on.
In cases of wrongful death, the victim’s family has the right to seek monetary compensation in the form of damages with a personal injury law firm in Fort Collins or the surrounding areas. This includes the medical and funeral expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship, among others.
But the fact of wrongful death is one thing. Proving it in court is another. Many families cannot retrieve the compensation they deserve because of their inability to prove the incident.
That is where a Fort Collins wrongful death lawyer comes in. A legal professional can help you understand your potential case, assign financial value to the damages you have suffered, and obtain the best results.
If your family has lost a loved one because of the negligence, recklessness, or wrongful act of another, contact our lawyers today.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought upon by the families of the deceased victim. The purpose is for the recovery of damages sustained because of the unnecessary death caused by the defendant’s wrongful acts.
These wrongful acts can be in the form of negligence, neglect, carelessness, recklessness, intentional torts, or criminal acts.
A wrongful death lawsuit is for the benefit of the family that the deceased left behind so that they can claim compensation for medical and burial expenses, along with monetary damages to compensate for the emotional, mental, and psychological effects of the death.
This type of lawsuit is, in many ways, similar to a personal injury lawsuit. The family of the deceased is entitled to compensation for damages, in this case death, that occured as a result of the action or inaction of another party.
A claim for wrongful death is applicable in a variety of situations, such as when:
- A victim is killed because of the intentional act of another
- Medical malpractice
- Car accidents where negligence is the cause of the fatalities
- Products liability, among others.
Causes of Wrongful Death
Wrongful death is a very large area of the law. In essence, any situation can result in wrongful death, as long as the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, lack of care and foresight, etc. resulted in the victim’s unnecessary death.
Though very broad, there are certain situations where wrongful death claims become applicable.
- Criminal acts. Criminal acts that result in the death of the victim are valid grounds for a wrongful death claim.
- Medical malpractice. This is when medical professionals who are negligent when giving patient care or fail to provide the standard of care required causes the death of a patient. Some examples of malpractice include wrong or delayed diagnosis, errors in prescriptions, surgical faults, or the malfunction of medical equipment.
- Products liability. Manufacturers, sellers, designers, and distributors of products can also be held liable for wrongful death if the product causes the death of a victim due to poor design, defective parts, etc.
- Vehicular accidents. This is the most common cause of wrongful death lawsuits. It can involve any car, motorcycle, truck, bicycle, or other automobile accidents. The usual wrongful acts include driving under the influence, distracted driving, speeding, etc.
- Work-related accidents. When an employee, contractor, or any personnel dies in the workplace due to the negligence of the company, the latter can face wrongful death charges. Some common causes of death in the workplace include an unsafe environment, faulty equipment, failure to conduct training, etc.
Wrongful Death Statistics
Wrongful death and accidental death rates in Colorado have been steadily rising each year, from 2,056 cases in 2007 to a whopping 3,037 cases in 2017. Among the leading wrongful death causes in Colorado are automobile accidents.
The NCHS Vital Statistics System shows the following data for unintentional fatal injuries to Colorado Residents from 2007 to 2017.
- 2007 – 2,056 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2008 – 2,172 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2009 – 2,144 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2010 – 2,106 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2011 – 2,330 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2012 – 2,403 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2013 – 2,422 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2014 – 2,517 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2015 – 2,725 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2016 – 2,880 unintentional fatal injuries
- 2017 – 3,037 unintentional fatal injuries
As seen, the cases of wrongful death in Colorado rise by a handful each year, except in 2009 to 2010 where cases dropped minimally.
Who is Eligible to File a Fort Collins Wrongful Death Case?
The statute that governs wrongful death cases in Colorado, particularly C.R.S. § 13-21-201, is set forth to give compensation to the families of victims they relied on financially. Because of this underlying purpose, the law sets down priorities as to who has the standing to sue and can file a Fort Collins wrongful death case.
The surviving spouse of the deceased has the exclusive right to make a claim for wrongful death during the first year after the incident. The heirs can initiate an action or join the action of the surviving spouse during the second year after death.
In cases where the victim does not have a surviving spouse or children, the deceased’s parents can file a wrongful death case and seek compensation. Under Colorado law, the deceased’s brothers and sisters cannot initiate an action for wrongful death, regardless of whether there are or are not surviving spouses, children, or parents.
However, a personal representative of the deceased can also recover damages for losses in the estate. But in this instance, the representative does not file a wrongful death action. Instead, they file a survival action, which survives the death of the person who has the right to claim it. This means that a representative can initiate a survival action on the behalf of the deceased to claim what he or she has lost.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado
Statute 13-21-202, which governs wrongful death cases in Colorado, requires that the death, to be wrongful, must have been caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” Hence, this is a necessary element in order to prove wrongful death.
It is not enough to simply allege that wrongful death was caused — and a competent Fort Collins wrongful death lawyer will know that. In order to attain the best results and emerge successfully, a lawyer must be able to prove that the defendant’s error or intent caused the death of the victim. To establish this, these three core elements must be present: duty of care, breach of the duty of care, and breach of the duty of care that caused death.
Duty of Care
In order to sustain a wrongful death claim, the defendant must have had a duty of care he or she owed to the deceased. The standard duty of care for all people is to act in a manner that doesn’t bring harm, injury, or loss to another. Everyone has the duty of care to act reasonably towards others. A wrongful death lawyer must prove the existence of this duty of care.
Here are some examples:
- In cases of medical malpractice – The doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other medical professionals have the duty of care to prescribe the right medicine, conduct the procedure properly, ensure the safety of hospital equipment used, etc.
- In automobile accidents, drivers have the duty to observe traffic rules and other road regulations to prevent harm to other motorists or pedestrians.
- In cases of product liability – Manufacturers have the duty to ensure that all their products are created in a way that is safe for consumer use. They also have the duty to inform consumers of how to properly use their products to prevent harm and injury.
- In workplace accidents, employers must ensure that the work environment is safe for all employees, contractors, or other personnel in the workplace. This responsibility includes the safety of office equipment, conducting training sessions to improve workplace safety, etc.
Breach of the Duty of Care
Once the duty of care has been established and proven, it must now be shown that the defendant had breached that duty of care expected from him or her. The breach can either be intentional or due to negligence and failure to act according to his or her duty of care.
Breach of the Duty of Care That Caused Death
Further, the breach of the duty of care must have been the cause of the victim’s death and the damages suffered by the deceased and his or her family. In this case, the breach of care need not be the cause in fact or directly causing the death of the victim.
It can also be the proximate cause, i.e. when the breach of the duty of care has a direct link to the death of the deceased. The principle of proximate cause requires that the breach of the duty of care be sufficiently related to the death that without it, the death would not have occurred.
The burden of proof to establish all these elements is on the plaintiff or the person who initiates the action. That is why it is important to hire a Fort Collins wrongful death lawyer who has the experience and expertise to establish and satisfy these three elements to prove wrongful death.
What Damages are Available When Filing a Colorado Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In Colorado, the damages recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit include economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages compose of the following:
- Any property damage that occurred
- Funeral expenses
- Lost insurance or retirement benefits
- Loss of earnings
- Loss of services
- Medical bills
Non-economic damages include:
- Grief and sorrow
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
In non-economic damages, there are limits to the value that can be awarded. The cap depends on the type of non-economic damages claimed. In pain and suffering, the cap is at $250,000 or $500,000 if there is clear and convincing evidence that this value is appropriate. In medical malpractice cases where the medical professional was negligent and resulted in unnecessary death, the cap is at $300,000.
If the deceased has no surviving spouse, minor children, or dependent parents, the non-economic and economic damages are capped at $250,000 or $500,000 if there is clear and convincing evidence that this value is appropriate.
How Our Fort Collins Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Help
It’s not enough to have the basic facts that have the potential to be a wrongful death case. There needs to be evidence that supports the claim and proves the elements of negligence or intentional wrongful act of the defendant.
Wrongful death can be difficult to prove in court. And there lies the need for an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can help you understand the complexities involved and navigate your case wisely.
Our Fort Collins wrongful death lawyers can explain the facts, issues, and legal matters in your case. We can assist you in the entire process of your lawsuit and help you build a strong strategy that will drive your case forward and raise the chances of you getting the compensation that you rightfully deserve. Contact our lawyers today.