Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

A hand resting on a casket with white flowers after a wrongful death.

When you suddenly and tragically lose a loved one, your life can be thrown upside down. You may be in shock, uncertain of what to do next, and have financial concerns about the future. In the event your loved one died due to another’s negligence, you should consider pursuing legal action with assistance from an experienced wrongful death lawyer.

What is wrongful death according to Colorado law?

Wrongful death in Colorado is defined as a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another. It encompasses any civil action where someone’s negligence results in someone else’s death. For a family to pursue a wrongful death claim against an at-fault party, they must prove that the other person acted negligently and, as a result, directly or indirectly led to the decedent’s passing.

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What is the difference between wrongful death vs. survival action?

A wrongful death action is a civil lawsuit brought by the deceased’s surviving family members or designated beneficiary for damages resulting from the decedent’s death. In Colorado, plaintiffs may receive compensation for medical expenses, conscious pain, suffering before death, funeral expenses, and loss of income or services due to their loss.

A survival action is a claim made when someone else’s negligence results in injury before death. This allows recovery for medical bills, lost wages, and other costs incurred due to the injuries sustained before passing away. This type of claim would provide compensation up to the time of death, and any recovery goes to the decedent’s estate. 

There are some major differences between wrongful death and survival action. It is essential to understand these differences to determine what type of claim would be best for your particular situation. As such, consulting with a wrongful death attorney is highly recommended to help you make an informed decision.

Who can sue for wrongful death in Colorado?

Who can sue for wrongful death in Colorado is defined by Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-201. It also defines the order of succession that someone is allowed to sue for wrongful death. In the first year after losing a loved one, only the surviving spouse is permitted to bring legal action. 

However, the decedent’s children may also join the lawsuit if the spouse decides to add them to it. If there is no surviving spouse or children, then the deceased’s parents are allowed to file a wrongful death claim. A designated beneficiary may initiate a claim if there is no spouse, children, or parents. 

After the first year, the surviving spouse, children, parents, or designated beneficiary can sue for wrongful death. For instance, the surviving spouse does not take legal action during the first year. The children have to wait until after one year has passed, then they can initiate their claim. Before this, the surviving spouse would have to elect to add the children to their lawsuit. 

In addition, if the surviving spouse and children decide not to pursue a legal claim, the decedent’s parents are not allowed to file a lawsuit under Colorado law. Furthermore, if the only surviving family members are siblings, they, too, are not allowed to file a wrongful death claim under Colorado law. Filing a survival action may be allowed and a viable alternative in these cases. 

Colorado wrongful death laws

Colorado wrongful death laws allow a decedent’s surviving spouse, children, parents, or beneficiary to seek monetary compensation from the negligent party responsible for their untimely death. The specific Colorado Revised Statutes that cover wrongful death laws include:

What damages can the family seek compensation for?

There are both economic and non-economic damages the family can seek compensation for from the responsible party, including:

  • Present and future lost wages: Any wages the decedent lost before their death and any future wages they would have earned
  • Lost benefits: Any benefits the decedent provided their family, such as health insurance or retirement benefits
  • Loss of companionship: Compensation for the survivors for their inability to create new memories with their deceased loved one
  • Loss of consortium: Compensation primarily for the spouse and surviving children whose loved one can no longer provide support, guidance, and other intimacy they used to share with their immediate family
  • Medical expenses: All medical expenses incurred up to death, including hospitalization and emergency care
  • Funeral expenses: All funeral and burial costs are allowed to be recovered
  • Pain and suffering: Non-economic compensation for emotional distress caused by the unexpected loss of a loved one, along with grief, sorrow, and any trauma associated with the loss

Is there a cap on damages in Colorado?

Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-102.5 discusses the limitations on damages for non-economic loss or injury. It caps non-economic damages at $250,000 for any wrongful death claim other than medical malpractice. However, if the court feels justified and there is convincing evidence, they can increase non-economic damages to a maximum of $500,000. The damages are also adjusted for inflation. 

Colorado has no cap on economic damages as long as a spouse, child, or parent initiates the claim. If a beneficiary or the decedent’s estate filed the wrongful death claim, there may be a cap of $250,000, also adjusted for inflation. 

Who pays for damages in a wrongful death claim?

In Colorado, the at-fault party’s insurance policy would pay damages for a wrongful death claim. If the negligent party does not have insurance or their coverage is insufficient to cover all damages awarded, the defendant may be personally responsible for payment. Sometimes, a third party can also become liable for damages if they are at fault for causing someone’s death.

How long does the family have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado?

The statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim is two years. However, there is an exception in hit-and-run cases, which increases the statute of limitation to four years. If a claim is not submitted within the allowed timeframe, then the family cannot bring any civil action or seek compensation from the negligence party. 

Is a fatal car accident considered a wrongful death in Colorado?

A fatal car accident in Colorado would be considered wrongful death under the state’s laws. To qualify for a wrongful death claim, families must prove that another person’s negligence directly or indirectly caused the death of their loved one. 

How our wrongful death lawyers in Colorado can help

A gavel and the scales of justice on a personal injury attorney's desk in Colorado.

At Bachus & Schanker, we understand firsthand how the untimely loss of a loved one is tragic. Our wrongful death lawyers are here to provide the support and guidance you need during this difficult time. Our clients are also provided access to our Victims Advocates, who provide additional support and assistance. 

We realize no amount of money will bring your loved one back. Yet our legal team is dedicated to ensuring you and your family receive the compensation you deserve for a financially secure future.

Contact Colorado’s Top Wrongful Death Lawyers For A Free Consultation Today.


CRS 13-21-102.5. (2022).

CRS 13-21-201. (2023).

CRS 13-21-202. (2023).

CRS 13-21-203. (2023).

CRS 13-80-102. (2023).