Did you know that in 2021, Arizona ranked highest in the U.S. for all causes of death? This is significant since it doesn’t rank among the most populous states.
Some Americans’ deaths are the result of accidents, misconduct, or negligence. For example, in 2020, 1,057 people died in traffic accidents in Arizona.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s 2020 Mortality data reports U.S. death rates. This compiled the cause of death totals for the previous 20 years. Unintentional deaths rank as the fourth most common cause of death.
Some families choose to seek justice by suing for wrongful death. Are you considering this option? Keep reading to learn more about wrongful death claims.
What Is the Legal Definition of Wrongful Death?
The legal term, wrongful death, involves a person’s or business’s actions that cause another’s death. This may result from a negligent or intentional act. Survivors have the right to initiate a civil case against the individual.
This is true even if the person faces criminal charges for the incident. If they’re found not guilty, the court can still find them liable. Wrongful death claims require a lower burden of proof than criminal cases.
The Most Common Reasons for Suing for Wrongful Death
Surviving family members often choose to file wrongful death claims to prove liability. They stand in for their loved ones to show that negligence or intent caused their death.
Attorneys work with family members to gather legal evidence to support the case For example, did the person owe the deceased a duty, and was that duty breached? Did this breach result in damage that led to death?
One example of wrongful death can result from a slip and fall injury. Wet or uneven surfaces account for about 55 percent of these accidents. The fall can cause a traumatic brain injury that leads to death.
There are several common reasons families file wrongful death claims. These include:
- Construction accidents
- Cycling accidents
- Defective products
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Medical or surgical errors
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Plane crashes
- Police brutality
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Claim?
The death of an innocent victim must be directly caused by a person or business. The law allows specified individuals to bring a suit if the death was due to misconduct or negligence.
Families may sue for the damages the person or business caused. The court considers the economic and non-economic harm when ruling on the case.
Damages may involve your emotional distress and loss of companionship. Financial factors include loss of benefits, medical bills, funeral costs, and more.
At times, the court combines wrongful death lawsuits with “survival action” cases. Wrongful death claims focus on the damages to the deceased’s family.
Survival action cases address suffering. Their purpose is to recover lost compensation caused by the death.
Juries may consider the victim’s prior income, and future expected income. They also look at the family’s level of dependence on the deceased’s financial support.
Receiving financial compensation won’t bring back your loved one. Yet, it can offer a sense of justice.
The money can also help pay the bills. This might include emotional therapy charges and other costs your family encounters.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in Arizona?
Each state establishes its statutes, damage limitations, and who’s allowed to file a suit. This includes defining punitive damages that may be awarded to family members. These penalties apply to deaths caused by a person’s or business’s recklessness or intent.
The Arizona Revised Statutes Section 12-611 defines the wrongful death filing rules. This claim can be brought to a civil court if the deceased could have filed a personal injury lawsuit. You must show proof that the death resulted from negligent or wrongful conduct.
Arizona limits who may file this type of claim. Eligible individuals include:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse
- The deceased’s surviving children
- The deceased’s surviving parent or guardian
- The deceased’s personal estate representative
- The deceased’s spouse, parent, child, or guardian’s personal representative
If the victim was a child, parents or guardians may file a wrongful death claim on the child’s behalf.
Death Involving Insured Motorists
The Arizona State Legislature 2022 Fifty-Fifth Legislature Session passed section 20-259.03. This addresses wrongful death recovery involving underinsured or uninsured motorists. The following law may also be subject to other applicable laws.
Did the deceased have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage? If so, qualified parties may take legal action.
You must follow the definition of eligible family members stipulated in Section 12-612. They must be a survivor of the deceased insured party.
If there aren’t any qualifying survivors of the insured, the deceased’s estate has the “right of recovery”. Thus, the estate can take action against uninsured or underinsured motorists’ vehicle policies.
Arizona law also describes those who aren’t allowed to file wrongful death suits. This includes common-law spouses, cousins, grandparents, or siblings. While some states now include same-sex partners as eligible parties, Arizona does not.
Types of Damages Awards in an Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Personal injury law involves two types of damages. These include compensatory and punitive or “exemplary” damages.
The intent of compensatory damages is to give financial reparation for injury-related losses. This is further divided into two categories.
Special compensatory damages address economic losses. General compensatory damages provide recompense for non-economic losses.
The plaintiff (person bringing the suit) may also receive punitive damages as well. This award is part of the defendant’s punishment for their egregious misconduct. The second goal is to act as a deterrent to the defendant and others to avoid future actions.
Arizona’s Law Covering Punitive Damages
Arizona plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s actions constituted an “evil hand and evil mind”. This involves several factors.
First, the person intended to harm the victim. Second, they took part in activities they knew were not safe and would probably hurt the victim. The defendant also ignored the substantial risk or injury their action created
The court considers how long the harmful activity lasted and if the defendant tried to hide it. The defendant’s net worth is another factor that impacts the punitive damages.
Examples of cases that may lead to punitive damages include:
- A motor vehicle accident caused by an intoxicated driver
- Aiming fireworks at a person or into a crowd
- A motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted driver using their cell phone
Punitive damages aren’t imposed if the harm resulted from carelessness or simple negligence.
Standard of Proof for Punitive Damages
The plaintiff must meet Arizona’s standard of proof to receive punitive damages. This means all evidence clearly and convincingly demonstrates “evil hand and mind”. All facts must lead to the conclusion that it’s more probably true than untrue.
In Arizona, the defendant’s insurance policy will cover punitive damage. It’s vital to know that some policies have specific exclusions for punitive damages.
So, what does this mean for family members bringing wrongful death suits? If punitive damages are awarded, the defendant’s insurance company usually pays them.
Does Arizona Cap Punitive Damages?
Unlike some states, Arizona has no cap on the amount of punitive damage awards. It also doesn’t have a defined compensatory-to-punitive-damages ratio.
It’s key to know that Arizona public employees and entities aren’t subject to punitive damages. This includes institutions such as public schools. Also, police officers, for example, aren’t liable if they’re acting within their scope of duty.
Arizona’s Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases
Each state establishes its own statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims. This defines how long you have to submit your suit to the court after the incident. After this date, legal claims aren’t valid any longer.
Arizona Revised Statutes Section 12-542 set the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims at two years.
Looking for an Attorney to Help with a Wrongful Death Claim?
Are you looking for guidance to properly move forward in suing for wrongful death? Sweet Lawyers, LLP is ready to offer you their 40 years of expertise.
You can trust our lawyers who’ve handled thousands of cases and have a 98 percent success rate. We litigate personal injury, wrongful death, car accidents, disability law, and more.
Our firm provides 24/7 availability via phone, text, or email. You won’t pay anything unless we’re successful in recovering money for you. If we don’t win, you won’t receive any bills.
Get your free, no-obligation consultation today.