WRONGFUL DEATH ACTIONS
Parties and Beneficiaries
In Arizona, wrongful death actions may be pursued by those who have lost a loved one; such as a child, parent or spouse. In a wrongful death action, there are two distinct types of persons: a plaintiff and a beneficiary. Legally, there may be only one plaintiff to a wrongful death action. If there are beneficiaries, other than the plaintiff, who are entitled to damages in a wrongful death action, then the action is brought in the name of just the plaintiff. Arizona’s wrongful death statute requires that a wrongful death action be brought by the surviving spouse or personal representative of the decedent’s estate for and on behalf of the surviving spouse, children or parents (beneficiaries), or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Either parent may maintain the action for the death of their child.
Damages in Wrongful Death Actions
In Arizona, should a wrongful death lawsuit not settle and a jury trial ensues, the jury will be instructed to give such damages to the proper beneficiaries that it deems fair and just. However, the amount recovered in a wrongful death action shall not be subject to debts or liabilities of the deceased, unless the action is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Generally, a party or beneficiary may recover a monetary award for “damages” sustained because of a wrongful death.
Here are some general types of damages, which may be recovered in a wrongful death claim, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case:
- The loss of love, affection, companionship, care, protection, and guidance since the death 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.
- The income and services that have been lost as a result of the death, and that are reasonably probable to be experienced in the future.
- The reasonable expenses of funeral and burial.
- The reasonable expenses of necessary medical care and services for the injury that resulted in the death.
- Punitive Damages
In order to legally recover damages in a wrongful death action, however, there are some general requirements that must be met:
- The death must have been caused by another’s negligence, i.e., it must be showed that the negligent person or entity was at fault for the death.
- If the deceased was alive, he or she would have been entitled to recover damages from the at fault party.
- The party or beneficiaries must meet the legal requirements to be allowed recovery of damages in the wrongful death action.
Each wrongful death action is unique. There are numerous factors involved in pursuing a wrongful death claim. Each case needs to be investigated thoroughly and issues of liability and damages must be examined, such as fault, negligence, causation, assumption of risk, etc. These issues are normally too complicated for a laymen or inexperienced attorney to handle without assistance. An experienced attorney in this area of law should always be consulted to investigate and assist a wrongful death beneficiary to help prosecute their claim. As a general rule, wrongful death actions in Arizona must be preserved by filing a lawsuit within two years from the date of the death. However, there are several exceptions to this general rule. For instance, if the death was caused by an employee of a public/governmental entity (such as a federal, state, county or city employee), other time limitations and statutory provisions come to play. In these cases, the time limitations and statutory provisions must be strictly adhered to, or the case could be forever barred and the injured person would not be able to seek relief in the courts. Further exceptions apply, so it is very important to consult with an experienced attorney to discuss all aspects of the case, including the time limitations imposed by law.