Your Life Is Worth Is $150,000

A decision of the Colorado Supreme Court today, while unexceptional legally, brings attention to a stark fact.  If the State of Colorado, or a local government in Colorado, causes your wrongful death, by any means other than a civil rights violation, the value of your life is limited to a maximum of $150,000.While this is considerably more than the paltry sums the U.S. military pays to persons killed accidentally in Iraq and Afghanistan (generally $7,500 or less), it is far less than the awards possible against private companies for wrongful deaths in Colorado.

In Colorado, the maximum recovery in a wrongful death suit not involving an intentional or reckless killing, against anyone other than a governmental entity, generally includes all pecuniary losses (such as funeral expenses and lost support from the income of the deceased person) to dependents of the deceased person, and in addition up to $341,250 for non-economic harms such as grief, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional stress.

The case involved a medical malpractice suit against the Denver General Hospital, now known as Denver Health.  But, the reasoning would extend to anyone killed by government negligence in Colorado.  For example, this cap would also apply to a suit against a local government operating a jail as a result of negligence, rather than an intentional violation of civil rights.

The cap would not necessarily apply to, for example, the personal liability of private doctors with privileges to practice at a hospital, who are providing treatment directly to patients at a hospital that happened to be owned by a governmental entity.

The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, which imposes the limitation, also imposes procedural requirements on suits against governmental entities for damages, limits the kind of governmental acts that can give rise to money damages, and caps the total liability of a governmental entity in a given incident, no matter how many victims the incident involves.

The cap applies on a “per injury” basis, so minor injuries are much more likely to be fully compensated than serious ones, in a suit against a governmental entity.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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