On Wednesday, March 29, members of the House Judiciary Committee will be presented with a plea to eliminate limits on non-economic damages in lawsuits
related to the wrongful death of a minor (under age 21).
House Bill 1254 (sponsored by House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder) threatens dissenting lawmakers with the axiom, "If you're explaining, you're losing!" After all, who wants to explain a "heartless" vote to deny parents damages for "emotional stress" or "loss of enjoyment" when a loved one has been taken from them due to the wrongful act of another?
That's tough duty, but in this case, it's the right thing to do.
First, recall that there are no caps in Colorado law for actual (economic) damages.
Next, keep in mind that non-economic damages address factors that are subjective or unquantifiable, such as "pain and suffering" and "emotional stress." These are damages, to be sure, but there's no matrix by which to objectively evaluate the "value" of those damages. One jury might award $500,000; another hearing the same facts might award $5 million.
The purpose of limits on non-economic damages is to balance the legitimate interests of the family to be compensated for the emotional cost of a tragic loss while preserving the ability of consumers, in general, to afford insurance.
HB 1254 is so broadly written that it even eliminates caps on damages brought against non-profits - like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and summer camps - and those brought against city recreation leagues or schools. If this bill passes, the cost of purchasing necessary liability coverage for those activities will be severely affected - and those costs will be passed along to parents.
Worse still, the bill does not merely lift the caps for wrongful death. It stealthily lifts the cap on injuries "recoverable in an action" for wrongful death.
Today, these damages are capped at $436,070 and can be raised to higher levels in particularly egregious cases. These are common-sense limits that should not be raised in this ham-handed manner.