Phoenix Wrongful Death Lawyers
In an instant, your world can be turned upside down with the loss of a loved one. Suffering the death of a spouse or family member is devastating and many times leaves survivors at a complete loss on how to move forward. If that loss was due to the negligence of another person, business or government agency, Arizona tort law allows the family of a deceased to seek justice and financial compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. The law recognizes that the negligent person’s liability extends past the death of the deceased. In no way will financial compensation replace the loss of a loved one, but it may help ease the stress associated with the family’s financial burdens. The Lamber Goodnow injury team has years of experience advocating for clients in their efforts to hold those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones liable for their negligence.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
When a person dies due to a wrongful act, neglect or misconduct of another, certain surviving members of the victim’s family may bring a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. According to A.R.S. Section 12-611, a wrongful death suit may be brought to court if the deceased person could have filed a personal injury case based on the negligent or wrongful conduct that caused their death. Another way to look at a wrongful death claim is that it is akin to a personal injury case in which the injured person is no longer able to bring the case of their own behalf; therefore, certain family members may seek justice through a wrongful death claim.
In order to have a successful a wrongful death lawsuit, the family member initiating the lawsuit has the burden of establishing that the defendant acted negligently and that their negligence was the proximate cause of the death of their loved one. Proximate cause means an event that is sufficiently related to an injury to make the courts deem that the event is the cause of that injury.
Many wrongful death lawsuits follow criminal trials. Wrongful death lawsuits may use similar evidence as criminal trials, however, the standard of proof in a wrongful death civil trial is different than that of a criminal trial. In a criminal trial the prosecution must establish the wrongdoer’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the evidence against the wrongdoer is fully satisfied, that all the facts have been proven and that the guilt of the wrongdoer has been established. In a civil trial the family members must prove that the wrongdoer was responsible by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence that the family presents showing the wrongdoer’s negligence caused the death of their loved one was more probable than not. Additionally, a defendant found guilty in criminal court goes to prison, while a defendant found guilty in civil court must pay monetary damages. A person convicted of wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime associated with that death.
An example of this is former football star O.J. Simpson. In Simpson’s 1995 criminal case he was found not guilty of all murder charges of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. In a civil wrongful death case brought by the Goldman family, however, Simpson was found liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Simpson was ordered to pay the families $33.5 million.
Our Phoenix-based personal injury attorneys invest considerable time, expense and resources when it comes to establishing negligence in wrongful death lawsuits. We regularly work with leading experts in fields such as accident reconstruction to establish negligence and liability.
We know that this investment is crucial in presenting the most favorable case when approaching an insurance company for settlement or presenting to a fact finder.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In order to bring a successful wrongful death claim in Arizona, the following elements must be present:
- Negligence: The surviving family members must prove that the death of their loved one was caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of the defendant.
- Breach of Duty: The defendant owed a duty to the decedent. For example, in a motor vehicle death, the defendant owed a duty to the decedent to drive safely and to follow all traffic laws.
- Causation: The surviving family members must prove how the defendant’s negligence caused their loved one’s death.
- Damages: The death of the victim must have generated quantifiable damages such as medical bills, loss of earnings, funeral and burial costs and pain and suffering.
Additionally, under A.R.S. Section 12-612, there must be surviving family members or a personal representative for the decedent’s estate that can legally bring the wrongful death claim.
Who is Entitled to Initiate an Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Under A.R.S. Section 12-612(A), an action for wrongful death shall be brought by and in the name of the surviving:
- Husband or Wife;
- Children, both natural and adopted;
- Natural Parents, Adoptive Parents, or Guardian; or
- Personal Representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, child, parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
Additionally, either parent may maintain a wrongful death action for the death of a child.
Under Arizona law, however, if any family member who would have been eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit or benefit from damages awarded by a wrongful death lawsuit, is found guilty under A.R.S. Section 13-3623 (child or vulnerable adult abuse), or A.R.S. Sections 13-1103-1105 (manslaughter, second degree murder and first-degree murder), the law treats the family member as having predeceased the decedent and therefore disqualifies them from recovering benefits. This portion of the Arizona wrongful death law eliminates a loophole that, in the past, had allowed family members who had caused the wrongful death to benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Forms of Compensation Can be Recovered in an Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The Lamber Goodnow legal team evaluates the details of each wrongful death case to make sure that each family is receiving the damages that they deserve. In Arizona, the current recommended jury instructions list the elements of damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action. A jury may award an amount to compensate the decedent’s beneficiaries for the following:
- The loss of love, affection, companionship, care, protection, and guidance since the death [of the decedent] and in the future.
- The pain, grief, sorrow, anguish, stress, shock, and mental suffering already experienced, and reasonably probable to be experienced in the future.
- In Arizona, the decedent’s pain and suffering prior to their death is not recoverable in a wrongful death action. The surviving family members, however, are entitled to damages for their pain and suffering caused by the death of the decedent.
- The income and services that have already been lost as a result of the death, and that are reasonably probable to be lost in the future.
- In order to establish the amount of future income, an expert is usually needed to testify as to the earning potential of the decedent. These earnings are generally based on the decedent’s prior earnings, education, life expectancy and on “acceptable economic analyses.”
- The reasonable expenses of funeral and burial.
- Funeral and Burial expenses of the deceased are generally only recoverable by a surviving beneficiary if they have paid for these expenses or if they are liable to pay for them.
- The reasonable expenses of necessary medical care and services for the injuries that resulted in the death (RAJI (Civil) 2nd, Personal Injury Damages 3).
A.R.S Section 12-613 describes the damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death action. The section does three things. First, it gives the jury broad discretion to award whatever damages to the plaintiffs that the jury “deems fair and just.” Second, it allows the jury to consider in determining damages any “mitigating or aggravating circumstances” of the act causing the wrongful death. Third, the plaintiff’s recovery is not offset by any “debts or liabilities of the deceased” unless the action is brought by the personal representative solely on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
In some wrongful death cases, punitive damages may be awarded. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the party responsible for the wrongful death and to discourage similar behavior in the future. Punitive damages may be awarded if the negligent act is considered especially reckless or egregious.
Under A.R.S Section 12-612(C), the amount recovered in a wrongful death action shall be distributed to the parties in proportion to their damages. If the recovery is on the behalf of the decedent’s estate, the amount shall be an asset of the estate, which would be distributed pursuant to the decedent’s will or the intestacy statutes.
Reducing Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Although the family may receive an award of damages in a wrongful death case, their damages may also be reduced by certain actions that occurred during the decedent’s life. An example is if a husband abused his wife while she was alive. This may be shown to reduce damages because it may prove that the husband did not suffer as a result of her wrongful death.
The courts have addressed a number of factors which may reduce the amount of damages the beneficiaries receive in a wrongful death action. Arizona law, however, provides that evidence of remarriage of a surviving spouse is not admissible to reduce damages. The reason behind this rule is that a defendant should not benefit from the fact that a surviving spouse has remarried.
A survival statute preserves an injured party’s right to recover for personal injury after the victim dies. In a survival action the victim’s estate assumes the victim’s claim against the negligent party. Survival statutes vary from state to state, but they generally allow the estate to sue for damages, pain and suffering, but not wrongful death. A survival action is completely separate from a wrongful death action and arises out of the original injury and not out of death.
Under A.R.S. Section 14-3110, the estate may sue for every cause of action, except:
- Damages for breach of promise to marry
- Separate Maintenance
- Loss of Consortium
- Invasion of the right to privacy
The purpose of providing both causes of action is to give and preserve to the parties damaged, a complete remedy and an opportunity to recover the complete loss sustained because of the wrongful injury or death.
The Lamber Goodnow Phoenix injury team has experience litigating both wrongful death and survival claims and will work closely with our clients to make sure the correct action is taken in order to get our clients the remedies they deserve.
Wrongful Death Damage Recovery and Taxes
According to the IRS Publication 4345, wrongful death suits are under the same category as personal injury settlements. Both of these are generally non-taxable since they are seen as compensatory—or refunding the person for money lost. Any monies that were received due to a physical injury and as a consequence caused emotional or mental hardship, those are then labeled as medical expenses are compensatory and therefore are non-taxable.
There are conditions, however, in which medical expenses are taxable. If the medical expense amount had already been labeled as a deduction in any prior tax returns, then the settlement must be labeled as income.
Any punitive damage monies received are not categorized as compensatory and instead are seen as financial awards which must be reported as “other income” on line 21 of Form 1040 in your taxes. Punitive damages are monies that go beyond the medical costs incurred due to the accident and wrongful death.
The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 amended 26 U.S.C. § 104(a)(2) to provide that damages (other than punitive damages) received under a judgment or settlement of a claim for personal injury or sickness are excludible from gross income. The legislative history of the 1996 Act makes clear that this exception includes income received from a wrongful death claim.
Deadlines to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Arizona
Every state has certain deadlines in which a family or an estate must file a lawsuit over a wrongful death. These deadlines are called a statute of limitations because it is a time deadline set by state law. The deadline from a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed is not affected by any criminal case that may also be filed in relation to the death.
In Arizona, under A.R.S. Section 12-542(2), barring unusual circumstances, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person’s death.
The Discovery Rule
Many courts believe that if the application of the limitation period would destroy the cause of action before it can be discovered the discovery rule should be applied.
The discovery rule states that the running of a limitations period in a wrongful death action begins when the party that is bringing the lawsuit discovers, or should have discovered through reasonable diligence, the cause of the decedent’s death. Arizona applies the discovery rule.
Motor Vehicle Wrongful Death Claims
The National Safety Council estimates that in 2016, more than 40,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents.
In Arizona, 962 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents during 2016 according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Wrongful death lawsuits may arise from various types of vehicle accidents including:
- Fatal Car Accidents
- Motorcycle Fatalities
- Fatal Bicycle Accidents
- Boating Accidents
- Drunk Driving Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Airplane Accidents
- Bus Accidents
Wrongful Death Resources
Although meeting with an experienced Phoenix wrongful death attorney is imperative if your loved one has been killed due to the negligence of another, it is also important that you have resources in order to educate yourself on the negligence of others.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: Provides information on consumer product recalls and other safety resources, including information on pool safety, baby cribs, carbon monoxide, and other household causes of accidental death.
- Medline Plus: Injuries and Wounds: From the National Library of Medicine, alphabetically arranged resources on injuries and wounds.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Provides information on highway safety and fatalities, with special sections on drunk driving, distracted driving, and other key issues.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Comprehensive information on workplace safety, such as emergency preparedness, chemical exposure, and more.
- National Patient Safety Foundation: Features patient safety resources and literature, covering a wide range of medical topics, such as ways to prevent infections in hospitals and pharmacy safety.
Our Commitment To Our Clients
Why You Would Need an Attorney Following the Loss of a Loved One in an Accident
The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team is compassionate and prepared to develop customized strategies in cases involving workplace accidents, fatal car accidents, fatal truck accidents, poisoning, product defects, fires, murder and general negligence. Our Phoenix-based wrongful death attorneys thoroughly investigate cases in Arizona and throughout the Southwest. We examine the circumstances, determining what happened, who is liable and what should have been done to prevent the accident.
The legal processes involved in these matters can be lengthy and complex, requiring significant investigation and case preparation. We thoroughly explore all evidence and handle all circumstances that may arise during litigation. It is critical that you speak with an experienced attorney before agreeing to anything with an insurance company representative or third party.
Our attentive and individualized approach offers comfort and confidence to families that have experienced deep loss, and we are recognized for our results-oriented approach.
Phoenix Fatal Accident Attorneys — Fighting For Justice And Recovery
For a free consultation, Contact us online or call our firm at (602) 274-9662 or (800) 283-2652. We can help you move closer to recovery and justice today.
 Mullen v. Posada Del Sol Health Care Center, 169 Ariz. 399, 819 P.2d 985 (App. 1991).
 Sedillo v. City of Flagstaff, 153 Ariz. 478, 737 P.2d 1377 (App. 1987).
 Barragan v. Superior Court, 12 Ariz.App. 402, 470 P.2d 722 (1970).
 Quinonez v. Anderson, 144 Ariz. 193, 696 P.2d 1342 (App. 1985).
 Taylor v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 130 Ariz. 516, 637 P.2d 726 (1981).
 H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-737, 104th Cong. 2d Sess., 301 (1996).
 Rogers v. Smith Kline & French Laboratories, 5 Ariz. App. 553, 429 P.2d 4 (1967).
 Lawhon v. L.B.J. Institutional Supply, 159 Ariz. 179, 765 P.2d 1003 (App. 1988) (cause of action does not accrue until plaintiff knows he has been negligently injured by a particular defendant).
Contact us online or call our firm at 602-ARIZONA (274-9662) or 800-ATEAM-LAW (283-2652) toll free. We can help you move closer to recovery and justice today.
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