Have You Lost a Family Member in an Accident?

When you abruptly and unexpectedly lose a loved one in an accident, you and your family have rights. If someone else’s negligence caused your loved one’s death, certain family members of the decedent may be able to recover compensation by taking legal action with help from a Phoenix wrongful death attorney.

How is wrongful death defined by the State of Arizona? Who has the legal standing to file a claim for wrongful death? How much time does your family have to take legal action after losing a loved one? And when should you seek legal help from a Phoenix wrongful death lawyer?

Arizona’s Wrongful Death Statute is found at A,R,S, 12-611, 12-612 and 12-613 and read as follows:

12-611. Liability

When death of a person is caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action to recover damages in respect thereof, then, and in every such case, the person who or the corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death was caused under such circumstances as amount in law to murder in the first or second degree or manslaughter.

12-612. Parties plaintiff; recovery; distribution; disqualification

  1. An action for wrongful death shall be brought by and in the name of the surviving husband or wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
  2. Either parent may maintain the action for the death of a child, and the guardian may maintain the action for the death of the guardian’s ward.
  3. The amount recovered in an action for wrongful death shall be distributed to the parties provided for in subsection A of this section in proportion to their damages, and if recovery is on behalf of the decedent’s estate the amount shall be an asset of the estate.
  4. If any party listed in subsection A of this section is found guilty of or guilty except insane for, or pled guilty or no contest to, a violation of section 13-3623 involving the death of the child decedent or a violation of section 13-1103, 13-1104 or 13-1105 involving the death of the decedent, the party is deemed to have predeceased the decedent and is disqualified from recovering wrongful death benefits.  This subsection applies to a person who is found guilty of or guilty except insane for, or pled guilty or no contest to, an offense committed in another jurisdiction that has the same elements of an offense listed in this subsection and that if committed in this state would be a violation of any of the offenses listed in this subsection.
  5. For the purposes of subsection A of this section, “personal representative” includes any person to whom letters testamentary or of administration are granted by competent authority under the laws of this or any other state.  The personal representative may maintain the action for wrongful death without the issuance of further letters or any other requirement or authorization of law.

12-613. Measure of damages; nonliability for debts of decedent

In an action for wrongful death, the jury shall give such damages as it deems fair and just with reference to the injury resulting from the death to the surviving parties who may be entitled to recover, and also having regard to the mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect or default. The amount recovered in such action shall not be subject to debts or liabilities of the deceased, unless the action is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death in Arizona?

Wrongful deaths are not uncommon in Arizona. Traffic deaths caused by negligent and reckless drivers can be wrongful deaths. Preventable accidental fatalities at construction sites and other workplaces are wrongful deaths, and a homicide may also meet the definition of wrongful death.

Children are at risk when they enter an unlocked swimming pool area or pet an aggressive dog. Wrongful deaths happen far too often in traffic wrecks, workplace accidents, medical malpractice incidents, and any time someone’s negligence or recklessness causes someone else’s death.

Arizona law states that a wrongful death happens when a person dies as the result of someone else’s “wrongful act, neglect, or default.” Generally, if the fatally injured party could have brought a successful personal injury claim had he or she lived, the death may be considered a wrongful death.

How Do Homicides Differ From Wrongful Deaths?

In the criminal courts, a homicide conviction may send a defendant to jail or prison, but in wrongful death cases, the penalty is limited to what the jury awards and court orders thru a judgment that the at-fault party to pay to the surviving family members (or limited to a privately agreed-upon settlement amount).

Additionally, in the criminal courts, the state must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is guilty, but in wrongful death cases, the survivors only have to prove it is “more likely than not” that the defendant has responsibility for the decedent’s death.

Someone’s death sometimes prompts both a criminal homicide charge and a wrongful death lawsuit. These are different and separate legal proceedings, and survivors who pursue wrongful death claims in the Arizona courts must have the assistance of a Phoenix wrongful death lawyer.

Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Arizona?

Under Arizona law, only these parties may file a claim for wrongful death:

  1. a decedent’s surviving spouse
  2. a decedent’s surviving child
  3. a decedent’s surviving guardian or parent
  4. the personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

If the decedent was a child, either parent or the legal guardian may file a wrongful death claim. If the decedent left a will, it probably names a personal representative, but if there’s no will, or if the person named isn’t willing or able to serve, the court will name a personal representative.

What Are “Economic” Damages?

In most wrongful death cases, the damages – that is, the losses claimed by the surviving family members – will be both “economic” and “noneconomic” damages. Economic damages compensate the survivors for their financial losses arising from the wrongful death, including:

  1.  burial or cremation and funeral costs
  2.  final medical expenses
  3.  the projected wages and benefits the decedent would have earned if he or she had lived
  4.  the repair or replacement of any property items damaged in the wrongful death incident

What Are “Noneconomic” Damages?

You will have receipts and other documentation for your economic damages, but noneconomic damages compensate surviving family members for the other losses they suffer because of a wrongful death, including:

  1.  the loss of the decedent’s affection, guidance, and companionship
  2.  the loss of the services provided by the decedent
  3.  the emotional suffering and pain of the surviving family members who have are listed as wrongful death beneficiaries in the above statute.

In a number of states, the total amount of the damages that wrongful death survivors may recover is “capped” or restricted by law, but Arizona imposes no cap on wrongful death awards.

How is Compensation Distributed to Survivors?

Arizona law requires compensation recovered with a wrongful death claim to be distributed to qualified survivors “in proportion to their damages.” If survivors can’t agree on how to distribute the compensation, the court may decide based on each survivor’s relationship to the decedent.

Is There a Statute of Limitations or a Filing Deadline?

Under Arizona law, the parties who qualify to bring a wrongful death claim have a two-year deadline from the date of the death to initiate legal action. If you are bringing a claim, however, you must not wait two years before you contact a Phoenix wrongful death attorney. Additionally, if a governmental entity is responsible for a wrongful death, a proper notice of claim must be filed with the appropriate entity within 180 days from the date of death and a lawsuit commenced within one year.

You and your attorney will have to prove that the at-fault party acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally to cause the wrongful death, so you must act at once. Evidence deteriorates or disappears over time, and the memories of the witnesses may fade quickly.

If you have missed the two-year deadline set by Arizona’s statute of limitations, go ahead and speak to an Arizona wrongful death lawyer, because your case may qualify as one of the rare exceptions to the deadline, but otherwise, surviving family members need to act immediately.

How Will Your Wrongful Death Claim Be Handled?

Your wrongful death lawyer will investigate the details of your loved one’s death by examining evidence and questioning witnesses to establish the at-fault party’s liability. Most wrongful death claims are settled out-of-court when the attorneys meet privately to negotiate a settlement.

However, if liability for the wrongful death is contested, or if no reasonable settlement offer is made in the out-of-court negotiations, your lawyer will take the claim to trial, tell a jury exactly what happened, and ask the jury to find in your favor and order payment of your compensation.

Arizona’s wrongful death lawyers represent surviving family members on a contingent fee basis. Your initial case evaluation is offered without cost or obligation, and if you proceed with your claim, you pay no lawyer’s fee unless and until you and your family receive your compensation.

Moore Injury Law is Here for Your Family

The team at Moore Injury Law has decades of wrongful death experience. We have consistently prevailed on behalf of surviving family members in Phoenix and throughout the state of Arizona. Moore Injury Law also represents the injured victims of negligence in personal injury cases.

In or near Phoenix, if you’ve lost a loved one because someone acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally – or if you’re not sure whether you qualify to file a wrongful death claim – promptly contact Moore Injury Law at 602-780-1616, and schedule a free case evaluation.