There is nothing that compares with losing a loved one—especially if their passing happened as a result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness. The pain and trauma that comes with such a loss is unlike anything else. In the aftermath of such a traumatic incident, you may find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of grief. While nothing will ever be able to make up for your loss, financial compensation may be necessary for your family to move on. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s actions, then understanding the difference between homicide and wrongful death is crucial for you to evaluate your legal options.
Homicide is a criminal form of murder where one intentionally takes the life of another. Intent is the main determining factor in whether or not a case is a homicide or a wrongful death. Because it is a criminal act, it is the state that will bring homicide charges forth against the perpetrator. Typically, a homicide conviction will result in a prison sentence or even the death penalty for the perpetrator.
Wrongful death, on the other hand, is what occurs as a result of someone else’s negligence or misconduct. It is important to note that a wrongful death can still be the result of intent. Furthermore, wrongful death claims are civil (rather than criminal) actions. Thus, it is the decedent’s survivors who must file the claim. Perpetrators of wrongful death will not face criminal penalties unless there are specific criminal charges. If the perpetrator is found guilty, then they must pay financial compensation to the decedent’s survivors.
To win a wrongful death case, you must have a mountain of evidence on your side. It is the plaintiff (the person filing the claim) who must prove that there is a direct link between the decedent’s death and the defendant (the accused). However, because wrongful death claims are not criminal cases, there is no need for the plaintiff to prove everything “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the plaintiff must meet the “preponderance of evidence” threshold. A homicide case, however, must be able to be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Additionally, the courts must be able to determine there was proof of intent.
It may be easier to file a wrongful death claim when the perpetrator has a homicide conviction. After all, it practically lifts the burden of proof off your shoulders. However, whether or not you will want to file a wrongful death claim is a different story. Because a convicted murderer will go to prison, they will not be able to earn any money to pay for a wrongful death claim settlement. There are very few cases where the perpetrator will be able to compensate you for your loss before going to prison. Thus, you may want to discuss your best options with a respected wrongful death attorney.
However, you may still be able to file a wrongful death claim even if the perpetrator is determined to be “not guilty” of homicide. For one thing, wrongful death claims have a much lower burden of proof than homicide cases. Plus, murder does not have to be intentional for it to be considered a wrongful death. For these reasons, you may want to consider taking the perpetrator to civil court even after the criminal courts have cleared them of homicide.
Laws regarding wrongful death claims vary from state to state. In the state of Colorado, only the decedent’s spouse can maintain a cause of action to file for the first year following death. Once the first year has passed, the decedent’s children or other designated beneficiaries may also choose to take legal action. However, if the decedent was single or did not have children, then their parents may also have the option to take legal action. Colorado law also allows for a “designated beneficiary” of the decedent to file a wrongful death claim. In any case, the statute of limitations in Colorado gives family members no more than two years after the date of death to file.
Decedents may be able to collect compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. The following factors may affect the exact amount of economic damages sought in a wrongful death claim:
Non-economic damages compensate the decedent’s survivors for their loss and any diminishment in quality of life they have experienced as a result. They, by nature, are often harder to quantify than economic damages. The following factors may influence the exact amount of non-economic damages sought in a wrongful death claim:
Nowadays, Colorado’s cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death claims is approximately $468,000. Unfortunately, this cap may sometimes reduce the amount of compensation survivors can recover. For instance, some cases will multiply the amount of economic damages (usually by twice or thrice the original amount) and demand that amount for non-economic damages. Furthermore, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that any caps on non-economic damages must be applied on a per-claim basis (as opposed to on a per-defendant basis). While this may not initially sound problematic, it can easily cause issues in cases with multiple defendants.
Navigating a wrongful death claim can be difficult, especially without a full and comprehensive understanding of the law. The loss of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the worst things you can ever go through. In times like these, you need someone you can trust in your corner. We at Injury Victim Law may be able to help. Though we are a Colorado-based firm, our team of experts and investigators is ready and available for cases all across the country. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced and compassionate nationwide wrongful death attorneys. Let us fight for you.