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Posted 05/27/2022 in Personal Injury by Scott Stewart

Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Arizona

If you’ve lost a loved one, the pain can be unsurmountable. But the tragedy can be compounded if your loved one’s death was preventable—if it only happened due to the callous actions of someone else. In addition to any criminal prosecution the wrongdoer may face, you can hold this party accountable in court. To do this, you can file a “wrongful death” suit in an Arizona civil trial. While a lawsuit won’t bring your loved one back, of course, these suits may bring some comfort as they are a powerful tool that can bring the wrongdoer to justice and compensate loved ones for their loss. 

Understanding a Wrongful Death Claim

The Arizona state law that gives survivors a right to sue for wrongful death does not, on its own, give people a right to sue whenever someone is responsible for the death of a person. 

Instead, it basically says that if the victim would have been entitled to sue a wrongdoer for a personal injury had they lived, then the surviving heirs or the estate should be able to sue the wrongdoer for the victim’s injury. In other words, a wrongdoer shouldn’t be able to escape responsibility and be better off because their victim died. 

A plaintiff can file a wrongful death suit against individuals and institutions such as corporations and government offices.

Claims for wrongful death lawsuits are found in cases such as: 

  • Car, bicycle, or plane crashes 
  • Construction accidents
  • Elder abuse (involving caregivers, nursing homes)
  • Intentional acts (e.g., assault)
  • Medical malpractice
  • Product liability (e.g., defects in design or product)
  • Workplace accidents

 Required Elements for a Wrongful Death Claim

Since a wrongful death suit is a variant of other personal injury lawsuits, the standards are similar. The defendant is liable for wrongful death if their wrongful act, neglect, or default was responsible for the deceased’s injuries. 

The “wrongful act” provision covers intentional wrongdoing that led directly to the death, but the statute also includes negligence claims. 

If you’re claiming that a loved one’s death is due to someone’s negligence, there are four elements that you will need to prove to prevail in a lawsuit: 

  • There was a duty of care: The defendant had a responsibility to exercise a reasonable amount of care.
  • They breached this duty of care: They failed to take the necessary steps to prevent harm from occurring.
  • This failure led to the decedent’s death: If it hadn’t been for the defendant’s action (or lack thereof), the decedent would still be alive.
  • The defendant’s action damaged the decedent and their heirs. 

 Significantly, these elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it’s more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the death. This is a lower standard than what a prosecutor must prove in a criminal trial (i.e., reasonable doubt). Therefore, even if a defendant is found “not guilty” in a criminal trial, they can still be held liable in a wrongful death civil case based on the same facts. 

Damages for a Wrongful Death

Three types of damages can be awarded in a wrongful death suit: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.

Economic damages compensate for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the death and the future income the deceased would have provided their family. Examples of economic damages are: 

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses 
  • Projected lifetime wages that the deceased would have earned 
  • Projected lifetime value of the deceased’s contributions to a household 

 Non-economic damages address the impact that is unrelated to financial expenses or income. By definition, non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify, but, in some cases, these awarded damages can be larger than the economic damages. Non-economic damages include compensation for: 

  • Loss of companionship and guidance
  • Loss of parental affection
  • Loss of spousal affection
  • Loss of consortium for a spouse

In rare cases where the defendant’s actions are heinous, punitive damages may be awarded. Punitive damages act as a warning of the consequences that the defendant and others will receive if they repeat this wrongdoing in the future.  

Once awarded, damages are split between those eligible to bring the lawsuit. However, if the defendant is one of the eligible recipients, they are ineligible for a share of the compensation.  

Other Important Considerations 

Arizona law specifies that wrongful death lawsuits can be brought by a surviving spouse, child, parent, or guardian. If the decedent is a child, either parent or legal guardian may bring suit. And if there is no living eligible plaintiff, then a personal representative (also known as an estate’s executor) can bring the lawsuit on behalf of the decedent’s estate. 

In most cases, a wrongful death lawsuit must be brought in less than two years after the date of their death, but the court may grant exceptions to the deadline under certain conditions. For example, the court may allow extra time to file if the defendant’s alleged role in the death wasn’t known at the time. 

While a lawsuit cannot remove your grief, it can help bring a responsible party to justice. And it may at least lessen some of the financial pain, so you can focus more on taking care of yourself and the other surviving loved ones. 

If you’ve lost a loved one, contact our office online or by phone at 602-548-3400 to discuss your case and see what legal actions may be best for you. For a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys, call today.

Scott David Stewart is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona.  Mr. Stewart’s personal injury practice division focuses on dog bite, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, auto accidents and general injury claims.  

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