Colorado Wrongful Death Laws

The Colorado wrongful death statute can be found in Part 2-Damages by Negligence, Article 21 Damages of Title 13, Courts and Court Procedures.  Pursuant to C.R.S. 13-21-201, when any person dies from any injury resulting from the negligence, unskillfulness, or criminal intent of any officer, agent, servant, or employee while running, conducting, or managing any conveyance, or when any person dies due to the defect or insufficiency in any conveyance, the corporation or individuals who employ any such officer shall forfeit and pay for every person and passenger so injured the sum of not exceeding $10,000 and not less than $3,000.

In the first year after such death, an action can be maintained by:

1) By the spouse of the deceased;

2) Upon the written election of the spouse, by the spouse and the heir or heirs of the deceased;

3) Upon the written election of the spouse, by the heir or heirs of the deceased; or

4) If there is no spouse, by the heir or heirs of the deceased or the designated beneficiary, if there is one designated, with the right to bring an action, and if there is no designated beneficiary, by the heir or heirs of the deceased;

In the second year after such death, an action for damages can be commenced:

1) By the spouse of the deceased;

2) By the heir or heirs of the deceased;

3) By the spouse and the heir or heirs of the deceased; or

4) By the designated beneficiary of the deceased, if there is one designated, with the right to bring an action, and the heir or heirs of the deceased.

However, if the heir or heirs of the deceased commence an action, the spouse or the designated beneficiary of the deceased, if there is one designated, upon motion filed within 90 days after service of written notice of the commencement of the action upon the spouse or designated beneficiary, shall be allowed to join the action as a party plaintiff[i].

If the deceased is unmarried without descendants and without a designated beneficiary, the father or mother may join in the suit.  If the parents are divorced, separated, or living apart, a motion may be filed by either the father or the mother prior to trial requesting the court to apportion fairly any judgment awarded in the case.  Where such a motion is filed, the court shall conduct a post-judgment hearing at which the father and the mother shall have the opportunity to be heard and to produce evidence regarding each parent’s relationship with the deceased child.  The court will consider each parent’s relationship with the deceased, including custody, control, support, parental responsibility and then fairly determine the percentage of the judgment to be awarded to each parent[ii].

Pursuant to C.R.S. 13-21-202, when a person dies by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another, and such act, neglect, or default would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, then the person or the corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable in an action for damages notwithstanding the death of the party injured[iii].

Pursuant to C.R.S. 13-21-203, the jury may give damages as they deem fair and just with reference to the necessary injury resulting from such death, including damages for noneconomic loss or injury for grief, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional stress, to the surviving parties who may be entitled to sue; and also having regard to the mitigating or aggravating circumstance attending any such wrongful act.  However, there shall be no recovery for non economic loss or injury in excess of $250,000, unless the wrongful act causing death constitutes a felonious killing.

In all actions brought under section 13-21-201 or 13-21-202 in which damages are assessed by the trier of fact and the death complained of is attended by circumstances of fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct, the trier of fact, in addition to the actual damages, may award reasonable exemplary damages[iv]. The amount of such reasonable exemplary damages shall not exceed an amount that is equal to the amount of the actual damages awarded to the injured party.

A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by this section is not time barred.  The court may reduce or disallow the award of exemplary damages to the extent that:

1) The deterrent effect of the damages has been accomplished; or

2) The conduct that resulted in the award has ceased; or

3) The purpose of such damages has otherwise been served[v].

The court may increase any award of exemplary damages to a sum not to exceed three times the amount of actual damages, if it is shown that:

1) The defendant has continued the behavior or repeated the action that is the subject of the claim against the defendant in a willful and wanton manner against another person or persons during the pendency of the case; or
2) The defendant has acted in a willful and wanton manner during the pendency of the action in a manner that has further aggravated the damages of the plaintiff when the defendant knew or should have known such action would produce aggravation[vi].

Pursuant to C.R.S. 13-21-203.5, the persons entitled to sue under the provisions of section 13-21-201 (1) may elect in writing to sue for and recover a solatium in the amount of $50,000. The solatium amount is in addition to economic damages and goes towards reasonable funeral, burial, interment, or cremation expenses.  An action for wrongful death shall be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues[vii].

[i] C.R.S. 13-21-201

[ii] Id

[iii] C.R.S. 13-21-202

[iv] C.R.S. 13-21-203

[v] Id

[vi] Id

[vii] C.R.S. 13-80-102


Inside Colorado Wrongful Death Laws