What is the value of a human life? In an ideal world, where no one ever causes the untimely death of another, we might not ever have to ask that question, not to mention answer it.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Every year in Phoenix and elsewhere in Arizona, people die because of the intentional, reckless, or negligent acts of others. When this happens, a wrongful death lawsuit is how Arizona law measures the value of a life cut short.
If you have recently experienced the death of a family member because of the act of another person, you are not being callous to consider the magnitude of your loss—a loss that goes far beyond the sense of sadness that comes with the death of a loved one.
Someone you loved was taken from you. Arizona law gives you a remedy for that through its wrongful death statute, but this remedy has a time limit. Call Stone Rose Law today at (480) 498-8998 to speak with one of our Phoenix wrongful death attorneys about how to preserve your right to a wrongful death claim with the help of an experienced attorney.
Under Arizona law, a wrongful death is one in which someone dies because of the negligent or wrongful act of another person. Wrongful death can also happen in situations in which a person’s failure to act (a “default”) led to the death of another.
Causes of wrongful death can be unintentional or intentional. They include automobile accidents, on-the-job injuries, medical malpractice, and even willful criminal acts.
Another way to define wrongful death is a death that, if it had not happened, the decedent would have had a cause of action in Arizona for personal injury.
Depending on the circumstances, the death of an individual can bring multiple Arizona laws into effect. Here is how wrongful death actions differ from other potentially applicable Arizona laws.
As we mentioned above, a wrongful death claim can be the result of a criminal act. Under Arizona criminal law, the unlawful taking of another person’s life is punishable in an action taken by the state, such as for murder or negligent homicide.
Arizona criminal homicide law can operate in parallel with a wrongful death action, or independently of it. Indeed, evidence the state gathers in support of a criminal prosecution can be available to you in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even if the state does not prosecute for homicide, that does not mean you cannot file a wrongful death legal action. And if the state fails to convict for homicide, you might still prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit because your burden of proof is lower than the state’s is.
The table below shows some of the key differences between a homicide prosecution and a wrongful death case.
|Wrongful Death Lawsuit||Homicide Prosecution|
|Who is the plaintiff?||You, as a surviving relative||The state of Arizona|
|Nature of the action||Civil lawsuit||Criminal prosecution|
|Burden of proof||Preponderance of the evidence: “More likely than not” that the defendant is liable||Beyond a reasonable doubt|
|Result of successful outcome||Money damages||Incarceration, fines, or both|
When anyone dies, that person’s estate is a temporary legal entity that exists long enough to close out the decedent’s remaining affairs. If the decedent had a legal claim under Arizona law before dying, the right to pursue that claim passes to the estate in the form of a survival action.
Here is a comparison of some of the differences and similarities between wrongful death actions and Arizona survival actions:
|Wrongful Death Lawsuit||Survival Action|
|Who is the plaintiff?||You, as a surviving relative||The estate of the decedent|
|Basis of law||Common law||Arizona state statute|
|Burden of proof||Preponderance of the evidence||Preponderance of the evidence|
|Result of successful outcome||Money damages, including post-death claims:Pain and suffering||Money damages up to the point of death:Medical billsLost wagesProperty loss or damageFuneral expenses|
One key difference between a wrongful death claim and a survival action in Arizona is that the Arizona survival action statute precludes 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, speak with a Phoenix personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death claims.
A wrongful death can come from many acts and circumstances in which someone else causes the death to occur, and because of that other person’s action of failing to act, the death would not have happened.
Wrongful death lawyers break down wrongful deaths into one of three kinds, tracking with how Arizona defines homicides: murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.
Acts that are meant to lead to death are subject to Arizona murder statutes. These include first and second-degree murder.
By Arizona statutory law, manslaughter includes five kinds of acts that the person committing them knows carry the risk of causing the death of another:
Negligent homicide is similar to manslaughter in Arizona in that both can be distinguished from murder because no intent to kill is involved. Originally, under Arizona law, negligent homicide used to be legally known as “involuntary manslaughter.”
The main difference between manslaughter and negligent homicide in Arizona is that an act of manslaughter is one in which the person committing the act is aware of the risk of death, while negligence typically means a lack of such awareness.
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 means other than an accident. For example, a product liability lawsuit, based on a product’s inherently dangerous design or manufacture, can give rise to a wrongful death claim in Arizona.
Medical professionals, including doctors, surgeons, nurses, and specialists, are human beings who make human mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes have fatal consequences to patients. Medical malpractice claims occur when a healthcare professional, individually or as an organization like a hospital, negligently causes the death of a patient.
Legal claims of medical malpractice accidental death relate to individual defendants. “Hospital negligence” is a term that generally describes a medical malpractice claim against a healthcare organization separately from its individual employees.
It is possible to pursue medical malpractice and hospital negligence claims at the same time in an Arizona wrongful death action.
Although deaths from medical malpractice and hospital negligence are forms of negligent homicide, there are two considerations about these causes of action in a wrongful death lawsuit that merit additional attention.
First, your burden of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit is different from the “reasonable person” standard in an ordinary negligent homicide lawsuit. In a regular negligent homicide case, a “reasonable person” can be anybody.
In a medical malpractice case, however, this “Jane Q. Public” version of the reasonable person does not apply. Instead, you must show that the healthcare professional acted in a way that another health care professional of the same type would not have 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 peers” standard for what constitutes their reasonable conduct as professionals. This will often require expert witness testimony.
Second, medical malpractice and hospital negligence claims often result in large personal injury settlements and wrongful death claim settlement payouts by insurance companies that provide medical malpractice insurance to doctors and business insurance to their employers.
What this means to you is that if you bring a wrongful death claim against a healthcare provider, then there is a good chance that the insurance company will have its own personal injury defense lawyers who will vigorously defend against your claim in settlement negotiations and at trial if settlement fails.
Medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits require personal injury attorneys that understand the burden of proof you need to meet and the evidence to gather to meet it. Your attorney must be familiar with medical malpractice and hospital negligence in all their forms, like informed consent violations, misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, surgical errors, prescription errors, and more.
At Stone Rose Law, our Phoenix personal injury lawyers know how to take an Arizona medical negligence case through evidence gathering, personal injury settlement negotiations and trial preparation, and how to litigate a medical malpractice lawsuit on your behalf. And we do it on a contingency basis, so the insurance company cannot force you to settle for less by using costly legal fees to bleed you into accepting a low-ball offer.
The Arizona wrongful death law limits who can be the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. The following people are eligible:
A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by one of the people above as representing all those affected by the death.
As a general rule, the time to file a lawsuit for wrongful death, also known as the statute of limitations, is no later than two years after the fatal accident date. This time limit for wrongful death suits is the same statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit in Arizona.
If, however, you are suing a public entity in Arizona, like a municipality, county, or state government or a school district, then the statute of limitations is shorter. In these cases you have 180 days from the date of death to file a Notice of Claim against the public entity. After that, you have one year within which to file suit.
Statutes of limitation that apply to public entities can be subject to circumstances that can suspend or “toll” the running of the statutory time period. Your Stone Rose wrongful death attorney will know what these special situations are and whether they apply to your wrongful death claim.
Although an Arizona wrongful death lawsuit is based on general principles of negligence law like a personal injury claim, Arizona’s wrongful death statutes apply some differences in how you must pursue a claim for wrongful death.
The following are the elements for wrongful death cases that you must prove to win a wrongful death lawsuit in an Arizona court.
A duty of care means that, given the relationship between the defendant and the decedent, the defendant was obligated to behave in a reasonable manner toward the decedent.
For example, drivers on Arizona roads and highways all owe one another a duty of care to drive reasonably under the circumstances, considering roadway, lighting, and weather conditions. They also owe a duty to obey Arizona traffic laws, including laws against driving while intoxicated.
2. 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 person. In the automobile example above, driving at an excessive rate of speed, or driving while intoxicated, are two ways how this breach of duty can happen.
3. Harm to the Decedent
The decedent must have suffered harm that occurred as a result of the underlying act or accident. In the case of wrongful death, aside from the death of the deceased person the harm can include the effects on the decedent before dying, including medical treatment costs, lost income, and pain and suffering.
4. The Defendant Caused the Decedent’s Harm
You must show that, but for the defendant’s breach of duty to the decedent, the harm the decedent suffered would not have happened. In addition, the kind of harm the decedent experienced must have been foreseeable to the defendant.
For example, if the defendant was speeding before the decedent’s fatal automobile accident, although that is a breach of duty to drive reasonably safely, you must be able to show that the speeding caused the accident. In other words, you must show that the defendant’s speeding caused the decedent to have to swerve off the road, or it caused the defendant to be unable to avoid colliding with the deceased person.
Depending on who the defendant is, if you have a wrongful death claim in Arizona, then you might encounter one of the following defenses against your claim:
Your Stone Rose wrongful death attorney can tell you, in a free initial consultation, what defenses you can expect to encounter to your wrongful death claim.
As we have seen above, the financial compensation you seek in a wrongful death action will take the form of money 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 Damages||Non-Economic Damages|
|Medical bills before death|
Funeral and burial costs
Value of lost wages and benefits
Repair or replacement for property damage or loss
|Pain and suffering of the decedent|
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
If you prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit, then the question will turn from the liability of the defendant to who is entitled to receive how much from the recovery, and in what order.
Here are some general guidelines for how wrongful death judgment awards are paid out in Arizona after a successful wrongful death lawsuit:
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 Phoenix wrongful death attorney. Our wrongful death lawyers are ready to help you to recover after a loved one’s death in Chandler, Phoenix, and throughout Maricopa County, AZ.