A man and woman grieve and a loved one's grave.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is an incredibly painful experience. It can be even worse if you feel that your loved one’s death could have somehow been avoided or that another party’s negligence caused the circumstances that led to the death.

To add insult to injury, the criminal justice system may be unable to help – you might be told there simply isn’t enough evidence to pursue a criminal case against the responsible party.

This is why many grieving family members turn to a wrongful death lawyer to explore the options of pursuing a civil claim.

How Can a Summit County Wrongful Death Attorney Help You?

We know that picking up the pieces after a loved one’s death is never easy.

Some people find it hard to move forward when they feel there has been no justice for their family member’s death. Others barely have time to process their grief because they’ve been overwhelmed by practical concerns, such as caring for children and paying the household bills.

At Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™, we want to do whatever we can to help you through this difficult time. If you want to know if your loved one’s death resulted from negligence, we’ll help you figure that out, and if so, explain your options.

If you’re struggling financially, we’ll check to see if any relevant insurance policies might cover some of your expenses. And if you’ve already filed an insurance claim, but the insurance company refuses to pay, we can help you fight the claim denial.

Was it Wrongful Death, or Was It a Tragic Accident?

Many people grapple with this question in the wake of a family member’s death. Sometimes accidents are also wrongful deaths.

For instance, if a person dies in a car accident, it could be an unavoidable tragedy, or it could be a wrongful death if it was caused by another driver’s negligence. Determining the difference can be challenging, especially if you are also trying to deal with your grief.

For this reason, we recommend speaking with an experienced Summit County wrongful death lawyer if you suspect your loved one’s death could have been avoided.

Under Colorado law, a “wrongful death” is the result of a “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person or entity.” This means a person or an organization, like a business, could be liable.

You may file a wrongful death lawsuit in situations where the decedent could file a personal injury claim if they had lived. Later in this article, we’ll discuss the rules regarding who can file a wrongful death claim and when.

The most common reason for wrongful death cases is negligence. From a legal standpoint, negligence occurs when someone has a duty of care, they fail in this duty, and their failure causes injury or damages to another party. Examples of negligence include:

  • Causing a car accident that leads to someone’s death. If the other driver was at fault for the accident, we could bring a wrongful death claim against them. (In most cases, at least some of the damages will be paid by the other driver’s auto insurance company.) If the police report on the accident was inconclusive about fault (this is not uncommon), or there isn’t much evidence of the other driver’s culpability, please contact a lawyer as soon as possible. We can investigate further, and we may be able to find additional evidence of the other driver’s responsibility, but we’re more likely to be successful if we start investigating sooner rather than later.
  • Accidents involving boats, golf carts, ATVs, or other vehicles. Determining liability can be complicated, but potentially responsible parties include the vehicle’s owner, a business that rents these vehicles, the driver or operator, a third party that collided with the vehicle, or a third party that serviced the vehicle.
  • Premises liability. When a person dies on another party’s property, the property owner may be liable if they were negligent. There are a number of ways these cases happen, but one common situation is when a person is a victim of a crime in a public venue like a store or hotel. Often this occurs due to negligent security or a failure to adhere to safety protocols. For example, if a person is murdered in a store parking lot, the store may have been negligent for failing to provide safety measures like bright lighting in the parking lot, visible and working security cameras, and on-site security staff to watch the cameras and intervene if a guest was attacked.
  • Dangerous drugs or defective products. Sometimes the victim dies from a medication they believed was safe. If the drug company produced a defective product or failed to warn of potentially serious side effects, they might be liable. The same is true of other defective products, such as a defective car part that causes an accident.
  • Medical malpractice. This means that a healthcare provider was negligent in caring for a patient. Specifically, medical negligence requires that the provider made choices that another reasonable provider in their specialty wouldn’t have.

What About Intentional Acts?

Sometimes we meet people who are understandably frustrated with the criminal justice system because the person they believe to be responsible for a loved one’s death wasn’t charged or was acquitted.

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation. There are many cases where charges are dropped or never filed in a criminal case, often due to a lack of evidence.

Prosecutors have finite amounts of time and funding; they have to choose cases they believe they have a good chance of winning.

Getting a conviction in a criminal case can be challenging because the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, and a jury must find someone “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to deliver a guilty verdict.

But in a civil case, it’s only necessary for a jury to find the defendant was more likely than not responsible based on “a preponderance of evidence.” For this reason, it’s often easier to prove a defendant was negligent than guilty of a crime.

Winning a civil trial will not result in the responsible party going to jail, but you may receive a significant judgment that you can use to rebuild your life.

While this money won’t make up for your family member’s death, it can be used to carry out their wishes – educating your children, donating to charity in your loved one’s name, and continuing projects they were passionate about.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Colorado?

Colorado has several rules about who can file a wrongful death claim and when. For the first year following the death, the decedent’s spouse may file a wrongful death claim, or they could jointly file with the deceased person’s children.

If the decedent was single, their children or an assigned beneficiary could file a wrongful death claim in the year after their death.

In the second year following the death, a wrongful death suit can be filed by the surviving spouse, surviving children, surviving spouse, and children, or an eligible beneficiary and the decedent’s children.

A surviving spouse and/or a beneficiary have the option to join any claim brought by the children within 90 days.

When the decedent had no surviving spouse or children and did not name a beneficiary, their parents could file a wrongful death suit.

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?

Damages are the losses that you seek compensation for in a civil case. These include both economic (financial) and non-economic losses.

Economic losses are a bit easier to compute – you add up receipts for specific costs. Non-economic losses are more challenging to assess because you have to assign a monetary value to something that doesn’t normally have one – like emotional pain and suffering.

Yet this is the only way to pursue relief from the court in a civil case. Your attorney will help you arrive at a reasonable amount of compensation for the following damages:

  • Lost financial support. If your spouse was the primary earner in the family, or if you needed both incomes just to make ends meet, you could find yourself struggling to pay your normal bills while grieving. You can request compensation for the financial support your spouse would have provided if they lived – your lawyer will help calculate that amount.
  • Other financial benefits you used to receive from your spouse, such as being on their workplace health insurance.
  • Funeral or burial expenses. These can be costlier than expected and sometimes exhaust the payment from a modest life insurance policy, leaving the decedent’s family with little support for living expenses.
  • Pain and suffering. This can include your and your children’s emotional pain and distress at losing a family member.
  • Loss of consortium or companionship.
  • Medical bills related to the decedent’s death.

How to Get Help From a Summit County Wrongful Death Law Firm

Please contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ for a free consultation about your case. We’ll review the details and investigate any unanswered questions, then explain your options.

If you’re having difficulty with an insurance claim regarding the decedent, we can also assist you in negotiating with the insurance company. Call us today at (303) 586-7297.