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Suddenly losing your loved one can be emotionally and financially devastating. When someone else caused your loved one’s death, you might have more difficulty processing what happened. Under Arizona law, surviving family members with specific relationships with the deceased victims of others’ negligent or wrongful actions have the right to pursue compensation through wrongful death claims. The liability of the party who caused the death of your loved one won’t end because your loved one died but will instead survive their death.

While no amount of financial compensation will ever replace your loved one, filing a wrongful death lawsuit might help you hold the defendant accountable for their actions. Monetary compensation can help cover the sudden and unexpected expenses you incurred because of your loved one’s death. The Chandler wrongful death lawyers at Lamber Goodnow know how overwhelming it can be to face the death of your loved one. We dedicate ourselves to helping families pursue justice and recover fair compensation for their losses.

What Are Wrongful Death Claims?

Historically, the surviving family members of people who were killed by the negligent or intentional conduct of others could not pursue a civil remedy against the at-fault parties. By contrast, people who were injured by others but didn’t succumb were entitled to pursue compensation through injury claims. The state Legislature recognized that this difference between the rights of personal injury victims to pursue compensation versus the lack of rights of surviving family members to do so was inequitable. To rectify this inequity, the state enacted ARS 12-611 to allow specific family members to pursue compensation through wrongful death claims. Under Arizona’s wrongful death statute, the negligent party’s liability doesn’t end with the victim’s death.

Proving Wrongful Death Liability

A plaintiff in a wrongful death case can include claims based on intentional or negligent acts. However, most wrongful death claims include negligence causes of action. To win a wrongful death case involving negligence, you will have the burden to prove the following legal elements of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to your loved one.
  • The defendant’s actions violated the duty of care.
  • The defendant’s violation of the duty caused theaccident and yourloved one’s death.
  • You incurred actual damages because of the defendant’s negligence in causing your loved one’s death.

Civil vs. Criminal Liability

In many cases, defendants who have caused the deaths of others will be criminally charged. The fact that a defendant has been charged with crimes for your loved one’s death does not mean that you can’t also file a civil claim against the defendant for the same event. Instead, you have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim against a defendant even if a criminal case has been filed against them.

Both wrongful death civil lawsuits and criminal cases might rely on similar types of evidence. However, they operate under different bodies of the law and require differing burdens of proof.

Criminal prosecutors are tasked with prosecuting criminal cases. Since a conviction can result in the loss of the defendant’s freedom through incarceration, the burden of proof prosecutors must meet is much higher than the burden of proof required of civil wrongful death plaintiffs. Criminal prosecutors must prove each of the elements of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

By contrast, a wrongful death plaintiff must prove the elements of the civil cause of action by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the events are more likely than not to have happened as the plaintiff has argued. If a plaintiff wins a wrongful death lawsuit, the defendant will be liable to pay monetary damages. However, the defendant will not face prison if they lose a wrongful death action. If they are found guilty at a criminal trial, however, they will face a potential prison sentence.

Since the burden of proof in a wrongful death case is lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case, it is sometimes possible for a defendant to be found not guilty in a criminal matter while being found liable in a wrongful death case for the same incident. Being able to file a wrongful death case makes it likelier that you will be able to hold the wrongful actor accountable for their actions.

One famous illustration of the difference between the possible outcomes of criminal homicide and civil wrongful death cases involves O.J. Simpson. While Simpson was famously (or infamously) found not guilty following his criminal trial for the murders of his wife and her friend, he was later found liable in the wrongful death actions filed against him by the victims’ surviving family members.

Parties Allowed to File Wrongful Death Claims

Arizona restricts the parties who are eligible to pursue wrongful death lawsuits under ARS 12-612. According to this law, only the people with the following relationships with the deceased victim can file wrongful death claims:

  • Victim’s surviving spouse
  • Victim’s surviving children
  • Victim’s surviving parent/guardian
  • Estate’s representative or executor if none of the above parties survive

For child victims, the parent(s) or legal guardian can file a wrongful death lawsuit. If none of the surviving family members listed above exist, the estate’s executor or personal representative can file a claim. In that situation, any recovered amounts will go to the estate to be distributed according to the decedent’s will or by the state’s laws of intestacy if the decedent died without a will.

Arizona Survival Actions

Survival actions can also be filed when someone is killed because of another’s negligent or intentional acts, but they are different than wrongful death lawsuits. Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to compensate the surviving family members for their losses caused by the death of their loved one as the jury deems to be fair and just under ARS 12-613.

By contrast, survival actions are found in ARS 14-3110. Only the personal representative or executor of the decedent’s estate can bring a survival action. The surviving family members cannot. However, if the surviving family member is also the estate’s executor or representative, they can file both actions. Unlike wrongful death actions, which are meant to allow the surviving family members to recover damages for their losses, survival actions are meant to allow the estate to recover compensation for the estate’s and decedent’s losses, including any medical expenses the deceased victim incurred before succumbing to their injuries, the decedent’s lost wages, burial expenses, and funeral expenses. Survival actions don’t allow for the recovery of the deceased victim’s pain and suffering damages, however.

Potential Damages

The damages that might be available will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. Some of the potential damages that might be recoverable include the following:

  • Burial and funeral expenses
  • Wages and benefits the decedent might have earned if they had survived
  • Medical expenses for treating the decedent’s injuries before death
  • Property losses
  • Lost rights to an inheritance
  • The emotional pain/suffering of the surviving family member
  • Loss of consortium, companionship, and guidance
  • Loss of the decedent’s household services

There isn’t a cap on the damages that can be recovered in Arizona wrongful death lawsuits.

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Wrongful Death Lawsuit FAQs

If you’ve recently lost your family member because of someone else’s actions, you likely have many questions about your rights and legal options. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions the Chandler wrongful death lawyers at Lamber Goodnow receive.

Q: Is There a Deadline for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A: Like other states, Arizona has established deadlines for when different types of legal claims must be filed. These laws are called statutes of limitations, and the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is found in ARS 12-542. Under this law, you must file a wrongful death lawsuit no longer than two years after your loved one’s death. If you don’t meet the deadline, your ability to pursue compensation through a lawsuit will be time-barred.

The limitations period for wrongful death claims doesn’t begin running until the victim’s death. This means that if your loved one survived their injuries for a few months instead of immediately succumbing to their injuries, the limitations period will not begin running until the date of their death instead of the date of their accident.

While you might think that two years is a long time, it can go by quickly when you are dealing with the financial and emotional aftermath of losing your loved one. Instead of waiting until you have almost reached the deadline, you should talk to a Chandler wrongful death lawyer at Lamber Goodnow as soon as you can after your loved one’s death. When you retain a lawyer quickly, your attorney will have more time to thoroughly investigate your case and preserve evidence that might otherwise be lost to the passage of time.

Survival actions have a shorter deadline of one year. If the defendant was a government employee who was working when they caused your loved one’s death, the statute of limitations is even shorter. In that case, you must file a claim within six months of your loved one’s death. The attorneys at Lamber Goodnow can help you understand the statute of limitations and when you should file your claim to avoid losing your rights to compensation.

Q: Are Punitive Damages Available, and What Are They?

A: Arizona wrongful death lawsuits typically seek compensatory damages. These are monetary amounts that are meant to compensate surviving family members for their pecuniary and non-economic losses. Punitive damages might also be available in some cases, but they are rarely awarded. Punitive damages are designed to deter defendants from engaging in similar behavior in the future and are ordered on top of any compensatory damages to punish defendants. However, they are generally only available in cases in which the defendants’ behavior was grossly negligent, reckless, or intentional. If your case is against a government agency, however, you won’t be able to seek or recover punitive damages.

Q: Which Family Members Can File Wrongful Death Claims?

A: The family members who can file wrongful death lawsuits are limited to the victim’s surviving spouse, surviving children, surviving parent or parents, or the surviving legal guardian. If none of these family members survive the decedent, the personal representative or estate executor can file a lawsuit. If an executor or personal representative files a wrongful death claim, any damages that are recovered will be paid into the estate and distributed to the beneficiaries of the decedent’s will or according to the laws of intestacy when there isn’t a will.

Q: Do I Have a Viable Case?

A: Whether your potential wrongful death case is viable will depend on multiple factors, including whether your loved one might have been at fault, your relationship with the victim, and others. A Chandler wrongful death attorney at Lamber Goodnow can analyze the facts of your case and explain its legal merits to you. If you have a viable claim, our attorneys will fight to help you recover the maximum possible damages.

Q: What Is My Case Worth?

A: There isn’t a specific amount that a wrongful death case might be worth. This means that if you call a law firm and ask how much you might expect to recover, the attorney won’t be able to give you an answer without analyzing the facts and evidence. The value of a wrongful death claim will depend on the unique facts and circumstances of your case, including how old the victim was, their career and earning capacity, the defendant’s degree of culpability, available insurance policies, and more. Your attorney at Lamber Goodnow can analyze the facts of your case and give you a range of values within which a fair settlement offer might fall.

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