Wrongful Death Claims & Lawsuits
By: Matthew Perkins
If you had a loved one die due to the fault of another, you may be entitled to compensation for their death in what is called a “wrongful death” suit. The most common example is where a loved one dies in a car crash.
If there is no dispute as to fault or liability, many times the tortfeasor’s insurance company will immediately offer you their policy limits in such a case. Also assuming there is no dispute as to whom is entitled to the insurance money, you may think you can handle this issue on your own and quickly resolve the issue. However, we recommend that you do not try to navigate this minefield alone as not only are clients usually an emotional wreck during the period following the loss of a loved one, there are also a host of legal issues you could be missing when you represent yourself.
Please note, although the insurance adjuster for the tortfeasor’s insurance may be “nice” or “kind,” they are NOT your friend. The adjusters interests are often antithetical to yours. Moreover, we recommend that you do not immediately take any settlement agreement without analyzing all of your options, as there may be additional compensation for you and if you sign the wrong agreement, or don’t notify the right parties you are settling, you may waive your right on the additional money.
For starters, we always advise our clients to look into the financial situation of the tortfeasor or—if they are now deceased—their estate. You may have a right to compensation over and above the value of the insurance policy. If the tortfeasor is deceased, however, you must notify their estate of a potential lawsuit quickly following the tortfeasor’s death. Colorado law allows you four months from the time the estate is published to provide notice to the estate that you are a potential creditor. If you do not provide timely notice, the probate court may allow the distribution of funds leaving it almost impossible to recover.
Next, you will want to consider your family member’s own underinsured insurance policy for a potential recovery. You must keep them in the loop and notify them of any potential settlement with the other parties before settling.
All this is to say that wrongful death claims, even those where liability is not in dispute, have many moving pieces and can be quite cumbersome. Therefore, you should obtain an attorney whom is well versed in this area of law. Please contact our firm for a free initial consultation.