Colorado Wrongful Death Claims – Order of Priority
Denver attorney R. Mack Babcock and associates explain who is entitled to file a wrongful death claim in what order
Wrongful death suits arise when the negligent conduct of someone, be it an individual or corporation, leads to a fatality. In the event of a wrongful death, the family members of the deceased can file a claim to recover damages. While all state courts allow for wrongful death suits, each state has their own statutes governing who can file a claim and when they must file one by.
Most states, including Colorado, place a priority on who can initiate a wrongful death claim. Only the spouse, the heir(s), or the parents of the deceased—in that order—may file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party.
Wrongful death can happen for a variety of reasons. Click here to learn more about the 6 most common types of wrongful death cases.
Wrongful Death Order of Priority (a.k.a. succession)
One way to visualize this concept is the presidential line of succession – if the U.S. President is unable to execute the duties of the office, then the Vice President steps in. If the VP is unable to fulfill the job duties for whatever reason, the responsibility then falls to the Speaker of the House. And if the Speaker isn’t able to serve as President, the President Pro Tempore in the U.S. Senate is next in line. If they can’t serve as president, the job falls to the Secretary of State.
Since the reasoning behind wrongful death suits is to provide financial support to living family members who may have depended on their loved one, most states, including Colorado, give grieving family members a bit of time to get a case together. Colorado gives a spouse the sole right to file for a year after a death (if there is no spouse, children can file and if there are no children, parents can file).
After the first year, Colorado gives heirs the right to file a wrongful death suit, or they can also join the surviving spouse’s suit. In the event there is no surviving spouse or heirs, the deceased’s parents can file a wrongful death suit. Siblings of the deceased have no legal right to file a wrongful death suit in Colorado—even if they’re the only surviving relative.
Colorado law defines ‘heirs’ as only the ‘lineal descendants’ of the victim. Moreover, the parents of the deceased can only file a wrongful death suit if their child does not have a spouse or children of their own—this is even true if the surviving spouse does not file a wrongful death suit. The only other person who has the right to file a suit is anyone the deceased named as their ‘designated beneficiary’.
Proceedings for wrongful death cases are usually pretty efficient and straightforward. However, there are situations where multiple parties to the suit may have conflicting claims, which can make things a little more complicated. One example of this type situation is when the deceased may have been involved in a common law marriage or where the paternity of a claimed heir has not been proven.
Damages eligible for compensation in a wrongful death suit
Those who file a lawsuit in Colorado for wrongful death can recoup damages for the following:
- Wages that the deceased would have earned if they had lived
- Benefits lost (i.e. life insurance)
- Personal loss, including:
- The deceased estate can also seek compensation for:
- Emergency care expenses related to the deceased’s final illness or injury
- Funeral and burial expenses
Losing someone you love is never easy. If your loved one has been killed in a car accident or some other negligent act, first let us express our deepest condolences. Although this is a difficult time, we urge you to consider your legal options for obtaining compensation from the at-fault party.
Colorado wrongful death attorneys at the Babcock Law Firm possess extensive experience at helping grieving families find closure and obtain compensation for the financial impacts of losing a loved one. Of course, no amount of money will ever replace the memories of a loved one, but you shouldn’t be left to deal with the financial impacts of a loss like this.