Scottsdale Wrongful Death Lawyers
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Unexpectedly losing your loved one can be overwhelming. You might be consumed with grief while also dealing with devastating financial losses. When someone else negligently or wrongfully caused your family member’s death, it can be even more difficult to comprehend. Arizona provides the statutory right to certain family members of deceased victims to pursue compensation when their loved ones’ deaths were caused by the negligent or wrongful actions of others. When somebody wrongfully causes the death of another, their liability doesn’t end simply because the victim died.
While no amount of compensation can ever replace your loved one, it might help you to hold the wrongful actor accountable for their actions. Wrongful death civil lawsuits allow people to receive justice for their loved ones while recovering compensation to pay for their losses. A Scottsdale wrongful death attorney at Lamber Goodnow can review your claim and explain the rights that you might have. We are compassionate advocates who are dedicated to holding negligent parties accountable for the harm they have caused to our clients.
Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Before the wrongful death statute was enacted in Arizona, the common law recognized the rights of injury victims to file personal injury lawsuits to recover compensation when their injuries were negligently or intentionally caused by others. However, the common law did not allow surviving family members of people who were killed to pursue compensation through lawsuits against the responsible parties. The Arizona legislature recognized the Injustice this created and reacted by passing Arizona’s wrongful death laws.
Under ARS § 12-611, people in Arizona are entitled to pursue compensation when their loved ones die because of the negligent or intentional actions of others. However, the state limits the parties who can pursue wrongful death claims under ARS § 12-612 to only those with the following types of relationships with the victim:
- Victim’s surviving spouse
- Victim’s surviving children
- Victim’s surviving parents or legal guardians
- Executor or personal representative of the victim’s estate
These are the only family members who have the right to pursue wrongful death lawsuits. If none of these family members survived the victim, the personal representative or executor of the victim’s estate can file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate. If compensation is recovered by the executor or personal representative, the proceeds are paid into the estate to be distributed to the deceased victim’s heirs or will beneficiaries.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Vs. Criminal Homicide Cases
A wrongful death case might deal with the same event that is also dealt with in a corresponding criminal homicide matter. However, wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits that proceed under the state’s tort laws, while criminal cases proceed under the state’s criminal laws. These are two separate bodies of law, and the burdens of proof required to prove each also differ.
In a homicide case, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to prove each element of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt before the criminal defendant can be found guilty. This is a high burden of proof because if a defendant is found guilty of the crime, they will face the loss of their freedom and be sentenced to prison. By contrast, the burden of proof in a civil wrongful death case is a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower burden of proof that means that the event was more likely than not to have occurred as the plaintiff has argued. If a defendant in a civil wrongful death lawsuit is found liable, they will not be sent to jail or prison. Instead, they will be forced to pay monetary damages to the prevailing plaintiff. Since the defendant’s liberty interests are not involved in a civil wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is lower, which means that it is easier to meet.
In many wrongful death cases, criminal actions might also be filed against the defendants. However, even if a criminal case is pending against the defendant, you can still file a wrongful death civil lawsuit against them. Since the burden of proof is easier for the plaintiff to meet in the civil case versus the criminal case, it is sometimes possible to hold a defendant liable in a civil wrongful death lawsuit even when the defendant is found not guilty in the corresponding criminal case. A famous example of this principle involves the case of O. J. Simpson in the 1990s. While he was infamously found not guilty following his criminal trial, he was later held liable in the civil cases filed against him by the families of his victims, Ronald Goldman and Nicole Simpson. Even if a criminal case has been filed against the person who killed your loved one, you should consider filing a wrongful death claim to increase the chances that the defendant will be held accountable.
Negligence in Wrongful Death Claims
While a wrongful death civil lawsuit can be filed whether a victim’s death was caused intentionally or negligently, most wrongful death claims include negligence causes of action. To win a case based on a negligence cause of action, the plaintiff will have to prove each of the elements of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the plaintiff will need to present enough evidence to show that it is more likely than not that each of the following elements is true:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased victim.
- The defendant violated the duty of care that they owed to the victim.
- The defendant’s violation of the duty of care cause the incident that resulted in the victim’s death.
- The plaintiff suffered calculable damages because of the defendant’s actions and the loss of the victim.
The plaintiff has the burden of proof for each of these elements If you file a wrongful death lawsuit and are unable to prove one of the elements but prove each of the others, you won’t win your case. However, your Scottsdale wrongful death lawyer at Lamber Goodnow will thoroughly investigate what happened and gather evidence enough evidence to prove each of the elements of negligence and increase the chances that you will prevail.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Survival Actions
A Survival action is another type of lawsuit that can also be filed in a case in which someone is wrongfully killed. While it is a related action, it is not the same as a wrongful death case. Both types of actions can be filed when somebody is killed because of the negligent or intentional actions of someone else. The surviving family members are entitled to file wrongful death lawsuits against the responsible party when their loved one has been killed. By contrast, the surviving family members cannot file a survival action. The only party that can file a survival action is either the estate’s executor or personal representative. If the surviving family member who has the right to file a wrongful death claim is also the estate’s executor or personal representative, they will have the right to file both types of actions.
In wrongful death cases, the jury can award damages to the plaintiff for the losses the plaintiff has suffered under ARS § 12-613. Survival actions are found in ARS § 14-3110. In these types of cases, the executor or personal representative can pursue compensation for the losses the deceased victim would have suffered if they have not died other than pain and suffering damages, which aren’t available in survival actions. Wrongful death damages are paid to the surviving family members since they are the parties who suffered losses. Survival action damages are paid into the estate to be distributed according to the deceased victim’s will or to their heirs under the intestacy laws of the state if there is no will.
The following types of damages might be available in a wrongful death case:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the income the decedent would have learned over their expected lifespan
- Medical bills incurred to treat the victim before they died
- Property losses
- Lost rights to an inheritance
- Value of the household contributions the victim made
- Emotional pain and suffering of the surviving family member
- Loss of Consortium, guidance, and companionship
Arizona has no cap on the recoverable damages in wrongful death cases.
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FAQs: Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Scottsdale
When you have lost your loved one because of the actions of someone else, you likely have many questions about what to do. You might be contending with a combination of grief and substantial financial losses. To help you understand your rights, the attorneys at Lamber Goodnow have compiled a few of the most common questions we receive about wrongful death claims.
Q: When Should I File a Wrongful Death Claim?
A: Like all other states, Arizona has established statutes of limitations for various types of legal cases. These are laws that set deadlines for when cases must be filed. The wrongful death statute of limitations is found in ARS § 12-542. Under this law, you must file a lawsuit no later than two years after the date that your loved one died. if you do not file a claim within two years, you will not be able to pursue compensation for your losses.
It Is worth noting that the wrongful death statute of limitations is tolled until the date of the victim’s death. If your loved one initially survived for a few weeks after the incident but then died from their injuries, the statute of limitation won’t start running until the date of their death rather than the date of the incident. By contrast, in a personal injury case, the statute of limitations starts running from the date of the incident.
The statute of limitations for a survival action is different. The executor or personal representative must file a survival action no later than one year after the date of the victim’s death. It is best for you to talk to a Scottsdale wrongful death lawyer at Lamber Goodnow as soon as possible after your loved one has died. Getting help as early as possible from an attorney is important. Doing so can help you to preserve critical evidence that could otherwise be lost while also avoiding potential statute of limitations problems.
Q: Can I Get Punitive Damages in My Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A: In most wrongful death cases, the damages that will be recoverable will be compensatory damages. These are monetary awards given to the surviving family members to compensate them for their economic and non-economic losses. In rare cases, punitive damages might also be available. Instead of compensating the plaintiff, punitive damages are designed to punish and deter the defendant. They are paid in addition to the compensatory damages award. While they are sometimes available, they are only awarded in cases in which the defendant’s actions were outrageous, willful, wanton, or reckless. Your attorney can explain to you whether punitive damages might be available in your case. However, if a government entity is the defendant, punitive damages will not be available.
Q: What Is My Case Worth?
A: There isn’t a set amount that wrongful death cases are worth. The value of a wrongful death case will depend on multiple factors, including the nature of the defendant’s conduct, whether the victim was partially at fault, the victim’s age, the victim’s earning capacity, the available insurance, and others. Your attorney at Lamber Goodnow can analyze your case and value it so that you have an idea of what you might expect to receive in a settlement.
Q: Do I Have a Case?
A: Whether you have a viable wrongful death claim will depend on several factors. The Scottsdale wrongful death lawyers at Lamber Goodnow can analyze the facts of your case and give you an honest assessment of its legal merits. We offer free consultations so that you can learn about your potential case and your next steps.
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