Colorado Springs Wrongful Death Lawyers
At The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., experienced wrongful death attorney Timothy Bussey is committed to helping grieving families understand their legal options after the loss of a loved one. If a member of your family has been killed in an accident that was caused by another's negligence or willful wrongdoing, you have the right to file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. It may be intimidating to consider legal action, but with an exceptional Colorado Springs injury lawyer on your side, you and your loved ones can focus on recovery while your case is handled on your behalf.
To speak to Mr. Bussey about your family's situation, call (719) 475-2555 for a free consultation.
Wrongful death is a legal term denoting a civil action in which damages are sought against a party for causing the death of a person. Any injury caused by negligence or wrongdoing that results in someone’s death could be grounds for a wrongful death action. A wrongful death claim can be brought by the survivors of the deceased person in cases where the deceased would have been entitled to file a personal injury claim against the responsible party had he or she survived.
Any tragic accident caused by the negligence of another can result in wrongful death. Common wrongful death accidents and injuries include:
- Trucking accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Car accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Defective product injuries
Only certain survivors of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim in Colorado:
- Within the first year after a fatal accident or injury, only the surviving spouse of the deceased can file a claim for wrongful death. The exception is that, upon the written election of the surviving spouse, a claim can be filed by the spouse and the heirs of the deceased, or by the heirs alone.
- If there is no surviving spouse, the heirs of the deceased or a designated beneficiary with the right to bring action can file a wrongful death claim during the first year after death.
- In the second year after death, a wrongful death claim can be filed by: the surviving spouse of the deceased; heir or heirs of the deceased; surviving spouse and heirs of the deceased; or a designated beneficiary.
- If the deceased person was unmarried and had no children, surviving parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, other relatives, and close friends are not permitted to file for wrongful death under Colorado law.
Car accidents are a leading cause of death in the U.S. An estimated 38,680 people were killed in traffic crashes in the most recent year for which statistics are available, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Driver negligence in various forms is a major contributing factor to many of these fatal accidents. A negligent driver who causes a fatal crash can be held accountable under the law. Examples of risky driving behavior that can lead to wrongful death include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs: Alcohol and drugs can significantly impair reaction time, judgment, and driving ability.
- Texting, talking on the phone, or otherwise driving distracted: Texting while driving is particularly alarming, as it requires manual, visual, and cognitive attention from the driver.
- Aggressive driving behavior: This may include excessive speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating, disregarding traffic signals and signs, cutting other drivers off, and failure to yield.
- Fatigued driving: A driver who falls asleep at the wheel can cause a deadly collision.
Under Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) 13-21-2002, you may have a legitimate wrongful death claim if the following circumstances apply:
- A person was killed,
- The death occurred directly or indirectly as a result of someone's negligent actions or intentional wrongdoing, and
- The surviving family has suffered financial loss as a result of the death.
After the loss of a loved one, you probably feel overwhelmed and confused about what step to take next. You want to make sure the at-fault party takes responsibility, but you're not sure how to make that happen. In order to protect your legal right to file a wrongful death claim, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to find the answers and clarity you need to make an informed decision.
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With some exceptions, such as product liability cases, to establish liability in a wrongful death claim, you must prove that the percentage of fault or negligence for the fatal accident or incident assigned to the deceased person is less than the percentage of fault or negligence assigned to the defendant or defendants. Under Colorado comparative negligence law, you are only permitted to recover damages if you bear less fault for the incident than the defendant. Damages for wrongful death are subject to reduction by the percentage of fault assigned to the decedent.
The sooner you seek rightful compensation, the better your chance for success. The statute of limitations regarding wrongful death claims in Colorado is generally two years from the date of the fatal accident (C.R.S. 13-80-102 (2014)).
In some cases, extenuating circumstances may exist if the cause of the fatal accident was not discovered until a year after the incident. For example, if an individual is killed in an auto accident but the cause is not proven until one year after his or her death, the surviving family may have two years from the date of the determined cause of death to file a claim.
Ultimately, the purpose of a wrongful death claim is to hold the at-fault party accountable for the economic damages the surviving family has suffered. In the state of Colorado, a surviving family member may be awarded financial compensation for pecuniary injuries and punitive damages.
Pecuniary damages include medical costs, funeral expenses, loss of income, loss of potential inheritance and even loss of companionship. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended solely as punishment to the at-fault party.
It is crucial to have a wrongful death attorney on your side to ensure that you receive the full and fair compensation you are entitled to. A jury may decide to award a certain amount, but the court may adjust that number. Do not trust the outcome of your case to just any lawyer.
Until 1989, damages in Colorado wrongful death claims were limited to the “net pecuniary loss” suffered by the survivors of the deceased person because of the death. (This term refers to the amount of support the deceased person would have provided had he or she lived.) Surviving family members were not allowed to recover compensation for noneconomic damages, such as sorrow, grief, and loss of companionship. However, in 1989, the legislature amended the law to permit recovery of these noneconomic damages suffered by surviving spouses, heirs, or parents at C.R.S. Section 13-21-203. Now, both economic and noneconomic damages can be sought for wrongful death.
Economic damages for wrongful death are not generally subject to a statutory cap, although the amount of recoverable damages is measured by the net pecuniary loss. Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are subject to a statutory cap, which is adjusted for inflation. For incidents occurring on or after January 1, 2020, the cap on noneconomic damages for wrongful death was set at $571,870, to be adjusted for inflation every two years.
Statutory damage caps may be lifted if you can prove that your loved one’s death resulted from a “felonious killing.” This includes manslaughter or murder in the first or second degree. A criminal conviction is not required to establish a felonious killing for the purposes of a wrongful death claim. You may petition the court to determine whether the elements of a felonious killing have been established for the incident. The court in a wrongful death claim may independently determine that the defendant’s conduct constituted a felonious killing, even if the criminal conviction was for a lesser offense, such as vehicular homicide.
The death of a loved one in a tragic accident is devastating to say the least. It can seem unimaginable to get your life back together, but it is not impossible. By filing a wrongful death claim, you can find the justice your loved one deserves and obtain the money your family needs. If you have lost someone due to another's negligence, contact the Colorado Springs wrongful death attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. for immediate assistance.
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