This information is provided by The Law Office of Robert H. Kleinschmidt, P.C. Please visit our Web site.
A wrongful death claim may provide compensation to survivors of a person or persons who have been killed due to the negligence of another individual, business or government agency. There are many circumstances that may give rise to wrongful death actions, including motor vehicle accidents, boating accidents, medical malpractice, accidents due to dangerous premises, construction site accidents, accidents caused by dangerous and defective products, and accidents caused by government or public entities and/or employees.
When considering an action for the wrongful death of a loved one, consideration needs to be given to several controlling laws which outline who can bring the claim, the time within which the claim needs to be brought, and types of damages. The specific statutes (laws) that govern the filing of wrongful death actions are Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) §§12-611, 12-612 and 12-613.
Under Arizona law, a surviving spouse, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative may bring a wrongful death action. Specifically, the liability of the person or entity responsible for the death of another extends beyond the death of the individual and the survivors can file an action based on that liability. A claim can be brought even if the circumstances of the death would amount to first or second degree murder or manslaughter charges. Therefore, criminal charges do not extinguish any civil wrongful death actions that may be brought against the defendant under this statute.
Additionally, a personal representative (the person appointed by the State of Arizona to represent the beneficiaries) may bring the action for the deceased on behalf of the survivors. Where no surviving claimants remain, the personal representative may bring an action on behalf of the decedent’s estate. In a case where the decedent is a child, either parent or a legal guardian may bring the action.
In a wrongful death action, juries may grant such damages as they determine are fair, taking into consideration any mitigating or aggravating facts surrounding the wrongful act or neglect. Evidence considered includes medical and funeral expenses, the loss of financial support once provided by the deceased, the loss of the decedent's potential earnings, the survivor's pain and suffering as well as the loss of companionship. However, when a personal representative brings the action, the jury may not consider or award damages for the pain and suffering.
When a jury awards compensation for damages to a surviving plaintiff, the award is not subject to any debts or liabilities of the decedent. However, in the case where a personal representative brings the action, the damages awarded to the decedent’s estate are subject to the debts or liabilities of the decedent. Any amount recovered by the estate, after payment of debts or liabilities and any probate costs is then distributed to the estate’s beneficiaries in accordance with Arizona law.
Coping with the death of a loved one and then pursuing a wrongful death action can be extremely painful for the surviving relatives. Complex legal issues regarding wrongful death actions require the advice of an attorney skilled in such actions and it is critical that evidence surrounding the death be preserved. Therefore, an attorney experienced in Arizona wrongful death actions should be contacted for advice as soon as possible after the death of the loved one.