It is the loss you have no way of preparing for—the unexpected death of a loved one because of another person’s careless actions. This can result from an accident due to a drunk driver, workplace accidents, criminal activity, and more.
Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in the United States. In Arizona, those who lose a loved one to wrongful death have specific legal rights, including the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you wonder who can file a wrongful death suit, keep reading. We will share all the details on obtaining compensation for the negligent actions of another.
What Injuries Qualify for Wrongful Death?
According to Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) §12-611, wrongful death results from a wrongful act, default, or neglect. If someone dies because of another person’s intentional act, negligence, or medical malpractice, the person committing the act may be liable for damages family members incur because of the person’s death.
The legal standard for determining liability is that if the person did not die and was alive, they must meet the criteria for a personal injury lawsuit. If they could file a personal injury lawsuit due to the negligent act, their family has a legitimate claim for wrongful death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following accidents or unintentional injuries took place in the U.S. during 2020:
- 8 million physician office visits due to unintentional injuries
- 9 million emergency department visits due to unintentional injuries
- 200,955 unintentional injury deaths
- 42,114 unintentional fall deaths
- 40,698 motor vehicle traffic deaths
- 87,404 unintentional poisoning deaths
Unintentional injury death rates show an increase of about 40% between 1999 to 2014. The above statistics may or may not include workplace, assault and battery, aviation, manufacturer defect, or malpractice deaths. Estimates show that as many as 251,000 deaths every year result from medical errors.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
In Arizona, a wrongful death claim may be brought before the court by the following persons:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving child
- The decedent’s surviving parent
- The decedent’s guardian
- The personal representative of the decedent’s estate
If the decedent is a child, then either of that child’s parents or legal guardian may file a wrongful death case.
Those who may not file for wrongful death in Arizona include siblings, grandparents, same-sex partners, cousins, and common-law spouses.
The surviving family member filing the lawsuit must prove liability. This is done the same way the decedent would prove personal injuries if they survived the accident.
The statute of limitations is two years for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If you do not file your claim within two years of the accident date, the court will likely dismiss your claim.
Elements of Wrongful Death
Every wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit has four elements that need to be in the complaint. The plaintiff must prove these at trial. If the plaintiff fails to state and prove the elements, they will lose their claim.
- Duty—the defendant had a duty to conduct themselves safely and prudently or produce a product safe to use or operate
- Breach of Duty—the defendant’s breach is their failure to fulfill their duty, leading to wrongful death
- Causation—show the defendant’s breach of duty is the direct and proximate cause of the wrongful death
- Damages—the loss the plaintiff incurs because of the defendant’s actions
The plaintiff must list damages at the end of each count in the lawsuit but not give a specific dollar amount. You request a minimum number of damages, allowing the jury to determine the amount. This allows the judge or jury to increase damages to an amount they deem appropriate.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Under Arizona law, when deciding on a wrongful death case, the jury is to award damages they find fair and just. The decision is made by determining the injury the decedent’s family suffers because of their loss. This includes any aggravating or mitigating circumstances regarding the default, neglect, or wrongful act.
The damages amount does not consider the debts or liabilities of the deceased person. The only exception is if the plaintiff is the decedent’s estate.
Losses the jury may compensate for in a wrongful death lawsuit fall into two categories, financial and emotional. Determining a price is tricky because emotional damages have no monetary debt. Juries often consider the survivor’s dependence on the decedent’s income and their loss of that person’s future earnings.
The compensation you may receive in a wrongful death claim includes:
- Medical bills for the decedent’s final treatment
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Value of lost wages and benefits the decedent would earn if alive
- Repair or replacement of damaged property
- Pain and suffering of the decedent before their death
- Lost value of household duties of the decedent (lawn care, home maintenance, child care, etc.)
- Pain and suffering of the survivors due to the untimely death
- Loss of consortium and guidance
Every case is different, and there is no way to determine what factors a jury will consider when awarding damages or the amount they will determine appropriate.
Wrongful Death vs Survivor Action
In Arizona, wrongful death falls under A.R.S. §§12-611 to 12-613, and survival actions are in A.R.S. §14-3110. These are two separate legal actions arising from wrongful death.
A survival action is for recovery from the wrongs inflicted on the decedent. It deals only with the decedent’s loss. A wrongful death claim covers the wrong to the decedent’s beneficiaries, and the award is for their loss due to the death. Recovery on both is not a double recovery for a single wrong but separate recoveries for different wrongs.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, a family member files a complaint, and the damages recoverable go to the plaintiff.
In a survivor claim, the estate files the action. Damages recoverable include funeral expenses, burial expenses, medical bills, and loss of wages and benefits. Damages you recover in a survival action go to the estate to pay the decedent’s debts and liabilities.
Criminal Restitution vs Civil Damages
If another person’s actions result in the death of a family member, do not rely on the court system to provide you with full compensation. The person’s behavior may have been criminal, resulting in a criminal charge that may include some restitution.
That is different than the compensation you may receive in a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, meaning the court does not have to find the person liable “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In a civil lawsuit, the jury only needs to determine that a person is liable due to a “preponderance of the evidence.” If the jury believes it is more likely than not that the person’s actions are the reason your family member is dead, the jury can find them liable for damages.
If someone in your family dies because of another person’s actions, contact a wrongful death attorney and schedule a consultation regarding your case.
What a Wrongful Death Attorney Does
The first step your wrongful death attorney takes is to investigate the death of your family member, learning the facts of the case. Following the initial investigation, the attorney will write and file a complaint for wrongful death. The complaint will include the elements shown above, a list of damages, and a request for a monetary award.
Following the filing of the complaint and service upon the defendant, the attorney will proceed with discovery. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this may include police records, witness statements, medical records, and accident reconstruction.
Your attorney may serve the defendant with interrogatories, requests for admission, and requests to produce. They will conduct any necessary depositions of the defendant, medical professionals, witnesses, and more.
While discovery progresses, they will appear before the court for all pre-trial hearings, motions, and settlement conferences. They will negotiate with defense counsel, striving to obtain a settlement. If they do not settle, your attorney will prepare for and conduct a full trial.
Once a settlement or trial decision is made, your attorney will prepare appropriate settlement and court order documents. Once all court orders and settlement paperwork is complete, they will receive the damages the court awards.
They will deduct their contingency fee, any court fees, and office expenses for handling your case from that award. They will send the remaining funds to you with a full accounting.
Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney
Knowing who can file a wrongful death suit is the first decision following the wrongful death of a family member. The person who qualifies to file needs to contact a Phoenix, Arizona, wrongful death attorney.
Once you hire Sweet Lawyers, we will request a police report, if applicable, and will continue gathering evidence to build your case. We handle all discovery, negotiations, and trial to reach the best outcome possible.
Call us at 1-800-674-7854 or use our online form to schedule a 100% free consultation with Sweet Lawyers. You pay nothing unless we win your case. Call today; you have nothing to lose.