There is shock and horror when a loved one dies in a car accident. No one could ever be prepared for that awful call from the police. The initial days and weeks are filled with the numbing details of funerals, paperwork, government benefits, financial decisions, and the like. But it would be dishonest to say that, even in those initial days and weeks, thoughts of seeking justice for the death of your loved one do not seep into the time of loss and mourning. The insurance company for the striking driver will likely call the family member(s) whom they have identified as the person making the financial and administrative decisions for the deceased’s family—assuring them that the insurance company will deal fairly with them and will resolve the claim quickly. Sometimes the insurance company will press for a quick decision on a settlement, which may not feel right to the survivors of the deceased.
Colorado's Wrongful Death Law
In the middle of the pain and the stress, how does the family member “in charge” know what the family’s rights are and how best to proceed to resolve the insurance claim? The rights and procedure for making a wrongful death claim are set forth in Colorado statutes (written) law. The provisions of these statutes must be strictly followed in order to make a claim for wrongful death.
What are the damages recoverable in a wrongful death claim?
In general, if the negligent or careless acts of a driver cause the death of a person, the negligent driver is liable for damages for the death of the other person. “Compensatory damages” that may be awarded for the wrongful death of another person include:
- Reasonable funeral, burial, interment, or cremation expenses
- The “net financial loss” sustained by persons dependent on the deceased
- Reasonable compensation for the grief, loss of companionship, impairment of the quality of life, inconvenience, pain and suffering, and the emotional stress incurred by the spouse or heirs of the deceased
Additionally, “punitive damages” may be awarded by a court to punish the striking driver who acted in a “willful and wanton” manner to cause the death of the deceased.
Who can file a claim for wrongful death in Colorado?
The statutes strictly prescribe who may make a claim for the wrongful death of another person:
- First priority for making such a claim resides with the surviving spouse of the deceased. The surviving spouse has the exclusive right to make a claim for wrongful death of the deceased spouse within the first year of the death. This claim can be made as an insurance claim, and settled, or as a lawsuit filed against the striking driver. If the surviving spouse settles the wrongful death claim with the insurance company within the first year after the death, all other claims of all other heirs will be barred thereafter.
- Second priority for making a wrongful death claim resides with the “heirs” of the deceased. The statute for bringing wrongful death claims limits the “heirs” of the deceased who may bring a claim for damages for the death to: surviving spouse; natural or adopted children of the deceased; if no spouse or children survive the deceased, the surviving parents of the deceased. No matter how close the relationship of brothers and sisters (or other relatives) of the deceased, they are not “heirs” of the deceased for purposes of bringing a wrongful death claim in Colorado.
A wrongful death claim does not go through probate. A wrongful death claim belongs to the “heirs” and, therefore, it is not a part of the probate estate of the deceased. This means that the wrongful death claim is made with the insurance company of the striking driver without opening a probate estate for the deceased. The wrongful death claim may be settled with the insurance company by the “heirs” individually, with no probate approval needed for settlements by adult heirs. If the claim cannot be settled, it is filed as a lawsuit in the individual names of the “heirs” who are entitled to make the claim for wrongful death compensation.
Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney in Colorado Springs
Prosecuting claims for the wrongful death of a loved one is very difficult, especially when there is so much else to deal with at the same time. The legal technicalities of bringing such a claim can be difficult to understand. When a car accident death is caused by a negligent driver, the adult heirs of the deceased should consult with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible. Experienced auto injury attorneys, such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP, know and understand the requirements in Colorado for wrongful death claims. Clawson & Clawson LLP offers a free initial consultation for families of persons wrongfully killed in a car accident. At this initial consultation the attorney will explain the options available to heirs of a person wrongfully, and tragically, killed in a car accident so that their rights are not lost in the middle of a most difficult and stressful time.