Everything You Need to Know About an Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuit
It is a shattering blow, and unfortunately, you have to try and stay strong throughout the grieving process, as funeral preparations take up all your emotional energy.
The situation is made even worse if your loved one has died due to the negligence of another person or institution.
Although the very last thing you wish to think about is the filing of a wrongful death suit in Arizona, please remember it is your right, and once you are able to approach the topic, it is important to make this claim because there is a statute of limitations in place.
Grounds for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Arizona If someone dies due to the reckless or negligent behavior of others, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death suit as a means of collecting damages for the death of a loved one.
In essence, a wrongful death suit is a civil action that decides the amount of damages grieving family members should receive.
Of course, there is simply no sum of money on Earth that could ever come close to "making up for" the loss of someone you cherish, but ultimately it is a way to pay for the expenses associated with death, and perhaps more importantly, it is an acknowledgment from the parties in question that they are responsible.
The premise behind such a legal case is that not only did the deceased lose their life as a result of another person's negligence or recklessness, the surviving family members have been severely affected emotionally and financially by the event.
As well as being forced to pay funeral expenses, which are substantial in this era, the family that has been left behind must cope without the earning power of the deceased.
Finally, there is the matter of emotional trauma, which is only natural after such a sudden and unexpected event.
If you wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Arizona, you will need to establish two things in order to have a chance at being successful:
- You must prove that someone else's recklessness or negligence was the cause of your loved one's death, as opposed to the incident being a result of the deceased individual's own action or inaction.
- In the event you can prove the above, it is then necessary to show you have sustained significant emotional and financial loss due to the event.
Due to "survivor statutes," you may be able to continue with the personal injury suit in place of the deceased.
Though this is a different lawsuit entirely, it may end up being combined with the wrongful death suit into one case.
Common Reasons for Wrongful Death Lawsuits There are a number of different reasons for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Arizona.
This includes accidental death in an automobile accident, death caused during the course of a crime, death due to an accident at work, or medical malpractice.
A poignant recent example of the latter occurred in various Phoenix VA Health Care System facilities.
It is estimated that as many as 40 veterans may have died due to a delay in providing them with care.
There are millions of records missing, and the medical system is 250,000 pages behind.
This may become a national scandal, with incidents also occurring at VA facilities in Miami, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, among others.
If it can be proved that the deaths of these veterans occurred due to medical malpractice or negligence, it provides an example of a typical wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Arizona? There are different state laws when it comes to this issue, though surviving spouses and children are allowed to file in all states.
In Arizona, the following parties are legally allowed to make a claim in an Arizona civil court:
- Any surviving children of the deceased.
- The surviving spouse of the deceased.
- Any surviving parents or guardians of the deceased.
- The personal representative of the deceased spouse, parent, guardian, or child.
- The personal representative of the deceased individual's estate.
In all cases, it will be necessary for the surviving family members to open a probate estate as a means of suing on behalf of their loved one.
What Is an Estate? When an individual dies, the money, property, possessions, etc.
, are known as their estate.
The money awarded after a successful wrongful death lawsuit may sometimes be awarded to the estate rather than one single beneficiary.
This can be a tricky and somewhat confusing process, because the beneficiary, heir of the estate, and executor could potentially all be the same.
If there are several people involved and trying to claim money from the lawsuit, it could become a complex and even messy process.
Types of Damages That Can Be Awarded In the state of Arizona, the damages awarded are expressed in financial terms only.
This is one of the main reasons why a wrongful death lawsuit is completely different than a criminal one.
In a criminal case, it is the state that brings the case to court, and if the defendant is found to be responsible for the crime, he or she is likely to be given a prison sentence or other penalties such as community service.
In a wrongful death case, the family or representatives of their deceased loved one take the case to a civil court, and if the defendant is found to be responsible for the death of the deceased, he or she will be forced to pay a certain sum of money.
It is entirely possible to be found not guilty of a crime in a criminal court yet be forced to pay out a sum of money to the family of the deceased.
One of the most famous examples of this was the O.
While the former football star was found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter, Ronald L.
Goldman, the families of the deceased took the case to civil court and were ultimately awarded a total of $33.
5 million in punitive and compensatory damages.
Two Categories In the state of Arizona, there are two categories of damages that can be awarded.
The first category relates to the losses inflicted on the estate of the deceased, and any compensation awarded will normally be paid to this estate.
These are some of the damages that can be paid out in this situation:
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Medical bills, including any bills related to emergency care given to the deceased as a final treatment.
- The amount of money that would have been earned by the deceased had they lived, through wages and/or benefits.
- The replacement or repair of any property damaged during the fatal incident.
- Any pain and suffering endured by the deceased prior to their death.
Compensation from this form of damages is paid directly to the family and may include:
- The value of the household services performed by the deceased individual.
- The loss of companionship, care, and guidance.
- The emotional pain and suffering endured by the surviving family members.
For example, while the estate of the deceased person will not be able to claim against the loss of companionship and care, the spouse or children of the deceased are entitled to such a claim.
When damages are awarded to family members after a successful wrongful death lawsuit in Arizona, it is up to them to decide how the money is divided.
In the event they cannot agree, a court may make the decision for them and divide up the money as it sees fit.
As such a decision would be legally binding, we would urge family members to come to an agreement prior to taking on any case.
It would be heartbreaking to see family members go through the stress of a wrongful death lawsuit only to begin arguing among themselves once the case has been won.
Statute of Limitations It doesn't seem fair, but there is unfortunately a time limit on the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit.
After this period has elapsed, you will no longer legally be allowed to file your suit regardless of how justified it is.
In the state of Arizona, the statute of limitations requires you to take action within two years of your loved one's death.
Although there is absolutely no time limit when it comes to the grieving process, this does allow you enough time to clear your mind and get ready to see justice done.
The statute of limitations may seem to be a cruel legal instrument, but the reason it is in place is to ensure the legal process runs smoothly, because the evidence will still be available and also fresh in the collective minds of any witnesses.
This deadline will not be affected by any criminal case that takes place in relation to the death or surrounding events.
Once the deadline has passed, no court in the state is likely to even hear the case, and this would be a tragedy.
The Discovery Rule This is one way in which the statute of limitations surrounding a wrongful death case can be affected.
For example, it may be determined that the injury which caused the wrongful death was not known at the time.
In such an event, the statute of limitations will begin from the day the injury is deemed to have been uncovered.
As a result, you may find the injury 18 months after the wrongful death, which means the "clock" would be reset and you would have two more years to file the lawsuit.
If an injury is deemed to have been a major factor in a person's death, the statute of limitations begins immediately from the discovery of the injury even if the individual dies from his injuries at a much later date.
As a result, it is conceivable for the statute of limitations to run out before the person has even died.
This is often a problem in product liability cases involving injuries caused by defective products.
Conclusion There are no words that can comfort you once a loved one has died; no amount of time can fully heal the wound; and certainly no sum of money can even begin to replace the presence of a loved one in your life.
Yet if you believe their death was caused by the negligence or dangerous actions of another person or organization, it is your duty to file a wrongful death lawsuit and get some semblance of justice.
For most families, it is less about the money and more about ensuring the person or company responsible pays for what they did in one form or another.
As we mentioned, it is possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit even if the defendant is also involved in a criminal case, and being found not guilty in one does not guarantee the same verdict in the other.
The aforementioned statute of limitations and discovery rule can appear to muddy the waters, and they ensure that you must act fast if you wish to successfully file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Fortunately, you can get in touch with the Law Offices of Gonzales & Poirier and find out your rights, plus information on when the statute of limitations runs out in your case.