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Scottsdale Wrongful Death Lawyer

Losing a close family member unexpectedly, especially due to someone else’s negligence or intentional actions, can make it seem impossible to put a value on their life and what they meant to you.

However, as time passes, you may realize that the life cut short significantly impacts your life and household. The State of Arizona recognizes this, too. That is why wrongful death laws exist in this state.If a family member of yours has died because of the act of someone else, it is not insensitive to think about the value of what you have lost compared to the future you should have had with that person. Call Stone Rose Law today at (480) 498-8998 to speak with one of our Scottsdale wrongful death attorneys about your possible right to a wrongful death claim.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Arizona law defines wrongful death as one in which someone dies because of the negligent or wrongful act of another person. Causes of wrongful death can be unintentional or intentional. They include automobile accidents, on-the-job injuries, medical malpractice, and criminal acts. 

A wrongful death can also happen when a person’s failure to act (a “default”) leads to the death of another individual. Another way to define wrongful death is a death that, if it had not happened, the deceased person would have had a legal cause of action in Arizona for personal injury.

How Wrongful Death Compares to Other Arizona Laws

Other Arizona laws can apply when another person dies because of someone else depending on the circumstances. Here is how a wrongful death claim differs from other possibly relevant Arizona laws.

Wrongful Death Claims Compared To Arizona Homicide Laws

A wrongful death claim can arise from a criminal act. Under Arizona criminal law, the unlawful taking of another person’s life is a criminal homicide that the state can punish even if the victim’s estate or family makes no claims in civil court.

A single fatal incident can lead to both a criminal homicide prosecution by the state and a wrongful death lawsuit. In fact, any evidence the state gathers in support of a criminal prosecution can be available to the plaintiff in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. 

Even if the state doesn’t pursue a homicide case, you can still file a wrongful death claim. Also, if the state prosecutes for but fails to convict for homicide, you might still prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit. This is because your burden of proof in a wrongful death action is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” level the government must meet.

The image below shows some of the key differences between a homicide prosecution and a wrongful death case. 

Wrongful Death LawsuitHomicide Prosecution
Who is the Plaintiff?You, as the surviving relativeThe State of Arizona
Nature of the ActionCivil lawsuitCriminal prosecution
Burden of ProofPreponderance of the evidence Beyond a reasonable doubt
Result of Successful OutcomeMoney damagesIncarceration, fines, or both

Wrongful Death Compared To A Survival Action

Under Arizona law, an estate is created when a person dies to stand in the place of the deceased while any remaining claims by or against that individual are resolved. If the decedent had a legal claim under Arizona law before dying, the right to pursue that claim passes to the estate. This claim is called a survival action.

The illustration below compares wrongful death actions and Arizona survival actions.

Wrongful Death LawsuitSurvival Action
Who is the Plaintiff?You, as a surviving relativeThe estate of the decedent
Basic of LawCommon lawArizona state law
Burden of ProofPreponderance of the evidencePreponderance of the evidence
Result of Successful OutcomeMoney damages based on the value of:
Money damages up to the point of death:
Medical bills
Property loss or damage
  • One difference between a wrongful death claim and a survival action in Arizona is that the Arizona survival action statute does not allow for claims for pain and suffering of the decedent before death occurs.
  • It is possible for a wrongful death action (the plaintiff being the surviving relatives) and a survival action (the plaintiff being the decedent’s estate) to co-exist in an Arizona court as separate causes of action.

If you have questions about whether or not you have a wrongful death lawsuit claim, then speak with a Scottsdale personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death claims.

Causes of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death lawyers identify wrongful death causes by asking if anyone involved in the deceased’s death crafted an unreasonable risk of harm, which ultimately resulted in the deceased’s death.


Acts that are intended to lead to death are subject to Arizona murder statutes. These include first and second-degree murder. These types of acts can also give rise to a wrongful death action. 


Under Arizona statutes, manslaughter includes five kinds of acts:

  • Reckless acts, like placing someone in danger by pointing a gun at that person and squeezing the trigger without first checking to see if the gun was loaded
  • “Heat of passion” acts, like getting into a physical fight that gets out of control
  • Assisted suicide, like knowingly helping someone else to commit suicide
  • Killing an unborn child by harming the mother
  • Reactions to threats of violence that are not justifiable as legal self-defense

The person committing each act knows it carries the risk of causing the death of someone else.

Negligent Homicide

Similar to manslaughter, negligent homicide is different from murder because there was no intent to kill. Originally, under Arizona law, negligent homicide used to be legally known as “involuntary manslaughter.”

In Arizona, the main difference between manslaughter and negligent homicide is that the person committing the act knows of the risk of death during manslaughter while those committing negligence lack such knowledge.

Negligent acts can result in fatal accidents. These kinds of accidents are often the source of a wrongful death claim. Here are some of the kinds of accidents that in our experience frequently lead to wrongful death lawsuits:

Sometimes, negligent homicide can lead to a wrongful death by indirect means. For example, a product liability lawsuit based on a product’s inherently dangerous design or manufacturing can give rise to a wrongful death claim in Arizona.

An infographic listing causes of wrongful death in Arizona.

Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Claims In Scottsdale, Arizona

Medical professionals can make fatal mistakes. Medical malpractice claims happen when a healthcare professional, individually or as an organization like a hospital, negligently causes the death of a patient.

Medical malpractice claims generally are against individual defendants like doctors. “Hospital negligence” is another source of liability against a healthcare organization as opposed to its individual employees. For example, one form of hospital negligence is a claim that the hospital was negligent in hiring a doctor who later caused the death of a patient.

It is possible to pursue medical malpractice and hospital negligence claims simultaneously in an Arizona wrongful death action.

Who Is A Reasonable Person In An Arizona Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

In a medical malpractice claim, your burden of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit differs from the ordinary “reasonable person” standard.

In a regular negligent homicide case, a “reasonable person” can be anybody. But in a medical malpractice case, whether the doctor was acting reasonably is based on what another health care professional of the same type would have done under the same circumstances.

In other words, because of the highly specialized nature of their education, training, and work, doctors are held to a “jury of their own peers” to determine if they used reasonable conduct. This will often require expert witness testimony.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Arizona?

The Arizona wrongful death law restricts who can be the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. The following people are eligible:

  • The surviving spouse of the decedent
  • Surviving children of the decedent
  • Surviving parents or guardians of the decedent, regardless of the age of the decedent
  • A personal representative for any of the decedent’s spouse, parents, guardian, or child
  • The personal representative of the decedent’s estate

The person who files the wrongful death lawsuit represents all those affected by the death.

How Much Time Is There to File an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim?

The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit for wrongful death is up to two years after the fatal accident date. This is the same statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit in Arizona.

However, the statute of limitations is shorter if you are suing a public entity in Arizona, like a city, county, state government, public employee, or school district. In these cases, you have only 180 days from death to file a Notice of Claim against the public entity. After that, you will have one year to file suit. 

In some cases, the statute of limitation that applies to public entities can be suspended or “tolled.” Your Stone Rose wrongful death attorney will know what these special situations are and whether they apply to your wrongful death claim. 

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim in Arizona

Arizona wrongful death lawsuit is usually based on general principles of negligence law. The following are the elements for wrongful death cases that you must prove to win a wrongful death lawsuit in an Arizona court.

The Defendant Owed a Duty of Care to the Deceased Person

A duty of care means that the defendant was obligated to behave reasonably toward the decedent based on an existing relationship between the two or public policy.

For example, Arizona drivers owe each other a duty of care to drive reasonably under the circumstances, considering roadway, lighting, and weather conditions. They also owe a duty to each other to obey Arizona traffic laws, including laws against driving while intoxicated.

The Defendant’s Breach of Duty to the Decedent

In this element, you must prove that the defendant violated the duty of care owed to the deceased. In the automobile example above, speeding, or driving while intoxicated, are two ways this breach of duty can happen.

Harm to the Decedent

The decedent, or the surviving spouse, child, or parent of the deceased person, must have suffered harm that occurred as a result of the underlying act or accident.

The Defendant Caused the Decedent’s Harm 

You must show that the decedent’s harm would not have happened without the defendant’s breach of duty to the decedent. Furthermore, the kind of harm the decedent experienced must have been foreseeable to a reasonable person in the defendant’s circumstances. 

For example, if the defendant was speeding before the decedent’s fatal automobile accident, you must be able to show that the speeding was the cause of the accident.  This is possible by showing that the defendant’s speeding caused the decedent to swerve off the road or in some way led to the accident that resulted in the deceased’s death.

Defenses to an Arizona Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Depending on who the defendant is, if you have a wrongful death claim in Arizona, you could encounter one of the following defenses against your claim:

  • Fault of others: This occurs when the acts of others caused the deceased’s death.
  • Comparative negligence. Under Arizona law, the recovery of damages gets reduced by the proportion of the plaintiff’s negligence if a person’s negligence is at least partly to blame for the harm that person suffers. The same principle works in a wrongful death case if the decedent was at least partly negligent in causing the damage that led to his or her death.
  • Governmental Immunity. Although “sovereign immunity” has been gone in Arizona since 1963, suing a public entity in this state can still be subject to defenses. These include acts committed by escaped prisoners, a police officer’s failure to make an arrest, or failure to suspend or revoke a license, or criminal acts of government employees. Also, you cannot claim punitive damages against a public entity if you prevail in a lawsuit against it, including a wrongful death claim.

In a free initial consultation, your Stone Rose Law Scottsdale wrongful death attorney can tell you what defenses you can expect to encounter to your wrongful death claim.

Recover Compensation for a Wrongful Death Claim

As we have seen above, the financial compensation you seek in a wrongful death action will take the form of monetary damages. These damages come in two types: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those that compensate you for calculable kinds of harm, while non-economic damages address harms that are indirect, such as emotional distress.

The table below provides some examples of economic and non-economic damages you might be able to recover in a successful wrongful death claim:

Economic DamagesNon-Economic Damages
  • Medical bills before death

  • Funeral and burial costs

  • Value of lost wages and benefits

  • Repair or replacement for property damage or loss
  • Emotional distress of surviving family members

  • Loss of household services provided by the decedent

  • Loss of the love, affection, companionship, comfort, and guidance of the decedent

  • Possible recovery of punitive damages
  • The Order of Wrongful Death Damages Recovery

    If you prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit, the question will shift from establishing the defendant’s liability to who will receive how much from the recovery and in what order. 

    The court’s considerations in allocating wrongful death compensation include who among the survivors will be affected the most by the loss of the deceased. For example, minor children will likely receive more than adult children.

    Schedule a Free Consultation With a Scottsdale Wrongful Death Lawyer

    A wrongful death settlement can never make up for the loss of your loved one, but it can help provide your family with financial support at this difficult time. Call Stone Rose Law at (480) 498-8998, or contact us online so you can begin with a free consultation with a Scottsdale wrongful death attorney. Our wrongful death lawyers are ready to help you recover after a loved one’s death.