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Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Even Enough?

Gordon Heuser

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Some of the most difficult cases we as personal injury lawyers ever have to manage are wrongful death lawsuits. The Denver Post this week features news about a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of an 8-year-old Douglas County boy whose mother was killed in an auto accident in 2009.

Grace Cruthers is the 29-year-old mother who was lost in that accident. The automobile she was riding in was driven by Dominick Wilmer. The accident occurred, by Wilmer's own admission, while he was driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana and at more than twice the speed limit. The vehicle rolled over into a ditch killing Cruthers and their friend, passenger Jonathan Richardson.

Wilmer survived the accident and was charged with his friends’ deaths, which the Douglas County Coroner's Office ruled were due to head injuries and internal injuries “as the result of the motor vehicle crash. " He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

But the time behind bars doesn't seem like justice to Dave Cruthers, grandfather and custodian to Damon, the boy who was left behind. So, he filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his grandson. A jury is deciding if the case will be classified as a felonious killing. Colorado law sets a limit on lawsuit settlement awards except when a claim is considered a felonious killing. If Wilmer's negligent behavior is labeled as such by the jury, and Dave Cruthers goes on to win his case, the jury could award unlimited damages to Damon.

We can only imagine the lifelong losses that will be experienced by a young boy who has lost a parent. It's human nature to want there to be justice after an accident ends like this, but everyone knows deep down that it is actually impossible to put a price on the loss of a human life. We can estimate the loss of a lifetime of employment earnings, or employment potential and other financial would-have's and could-have's, but a loss of life is a loss of intangibles. There's no recovery when a loved one-especially one as crucial as a parent-is no longer present to guide a child into adulthood.

Generally, wrongful death lawsuits aim to collect damages to cover survivors’ livelihood, because no one should grieve the accidental death of a loved one and then suffer catastrophic financial hardship thereafter. In the case of a felonious killing wrongful death lawsuit , a plaintiff like Dave Cruthers seeks to provide for his grandson's financial needs plus an amount that will deter people from behaving negligently in the same way Wilmer did.


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