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Wrongful Death Caps in Colorado: Tort Reform Gone Too Far

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Colorado, like many other states, has a statute that limits the amount of non-economic losses the family or beneficiaries of a decedent can recover in a wrongful death action. The amount differs for a death due to medical malpractice versus a death due to an accident, but the concept is the same: a jury’s determination of the monetary value of pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of parenting and guidance if applicable, loss of caretaking–in essence loss of life–has been usurped by the state’s purported greater need of predictability and lower insurance/business costs. 

Caught up in the broader movement of Tort Reform, states are applying caps to any damages not quantifiable to avoid “runaway jury” verdicts. Economic damages such as lost wages, benefits, funeral expenses, etc. can be calculated, and evidence of these damages is almost like submitting receipts to the jury for expenses paid and future payments lost. But non-economic damages are subjective. That does not mean that they lack monetary value; rather, there is simply no universal monetary value assigned to the losses. Your Denver Personal Injury Attorney argues that this is precisely where evidence plays a crucial role, and why juries should retain their right to determine the value of non-economic losses. The evidence presented at trial is what the jury will use to determine the monetary value of the non-economic damages.

The other goal of Tort Reform is to protect certain classes of defendants. In Colorado, as in most states that have caps on the recovery of non-economic damages, the limit for wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice is lower than for the limit on recovery from a claim arising from non-medical liability. (The former is $250,000 and the latter is $341,250). In fact, your Denver Personal Injury Attorney points out that many states only have caps on the recovery of non-economic damages from medical malpractice liability; a wrongful death claim arising from any other cause does not have limits on recovery of damages. The underlying rationale for why medical malpractice cases are subject to recovery limits–i.e. that the class of defendants is protected from huge jury awards against it–is that doctors, hospitals, and the whole medical health insurance industry would suffer too big of a financial loss over time if there were no limits in place. Caps on the recovery of non-economic damages in wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice allows for some predictability in litigation and insurance costs, thereby creating a welcome environment for the health industry and simultaneously helping to keep health care costs down–or so the argument in favor of caps goes.

But no such policy argument exists for having caps in place for recovery of non-economic damages in wrongful death claims arising from a DUI accident, or a hit and run accident involving a pedestrian. There is no class of defendants that needs to be–or is worthy of being–protected. It would seem logical to apply the recovery caps to the wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice only. In light of existing law, however, what your Denver personal injury attorney at Levine Law can do is present the best possible evidence of the value and magnitude of the loss suffered. Call our offices today.