Wrongful Death in Arizona
In Arizona, wrongful death claims are governed by Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 12-611 to 12-613. These three sections spell out the who can be found liable, who may file, and what damages may be sought and awarded.
Wrongful Death Liability
Arizona law defines a wrongful death as a death that is caused “by wrongful act, neglect or default.” According to § 12-611, a wrongful death case may be brought to court if the deceased person could have filed a personal injury case based on the wrongful or negligent conduct that caused his or her death.
In a way, a wrongful death case can be thought of like a personal injury case in which the injured person is no longer available to bring the case on his or her own behalf. Instead, certain family members or the deceased person’s estate may bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim
Section 12-612 restricts who may file a wrongful death claim. They are known as “statutory survivors” or “statutory claimants.” Such cases have only one named plaintiff who acts on behalf of him or herself and the other statutory claimants. Those who may file such a claim in an Arizona civil court include:
- the surviving spouse of the deceased.
- any surviving child of the deceased.
- a surviving parent or guardian of the deceased.
- the personal representative of a deceased spouse, child, parent, or guardian, or the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.
- If the deceased is a child, in Arizona either of the child’s parents or the child’s legal guardian may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the child.
This statute does not include some of the common survivors, and they cannot pursue a civil wrongful death claim or file suit:
- Siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews.
- Same-sex partners.
- Common law spouses.
While some states allow same-sex partners to file wrongful death suits, Arizona is not among them.
How Wrongful Death Compensation is Allocated
When a wrongful death suit is filed, there is only one plaintiff, even if multiple, statutory survivors are able to file the action. The named plaintiff represents the eligible survivors and must act like a fiduciary, meaning every statutory claimaint’s interests must be protected and treated fairly.
Section 12-612 mandates that compensation, if any, must be allocated to the survivors “in proportion to their damages,” which is decided by a judge or jury. If the estate of the deceased receives the compensation, it will be considered an asset of the estate. When wrongful death damages are assessed, they are based on many factors, including the survivors’ financial and emotional dependence on the deceased.
How Wrongful Death Damages are Determined
The specific damages that are available in an Arizona wrongful death claim depends in part on who is pursuing the claim in court. For example, the spouse or child of a deceased person may seek damages for loss of care and companionship, but the decedent’s estate may not seek damages for this particular type of loss.
Damages in an Arizona wrongful death claim typically fall into two categories. The first is the losses inflicted by the death on the deceased’s estate, and these damages are paid to the estate or whomever paid them. This category typically includes damages like:
- funeral and burial expenses.
- medical bills including bills for emergency care related to the deceased’s final treatment.
- the value of lost wages and benefits the deceased person would have earned if he or she had lived.
- repair or replacement of any property damaged in the event.
- pain and suffering endured by the deceased person before death.
The second category of damages includes harm suffered by surviving family members (those allowed by statute) due to the untimely death. This category of damages is typically paid to the family members directly, including such losses:
- the lost value of household services the deceased person performed.
- the loss of care, companionship, and guidance.
- pain and suffering due to the untimely death.
When compensation is awarded to family members, they must decide how to divide the total damages award among themselves. If they cannot agree, the court may order the damages to be apportioned in a particular way, and that decision would be binding.
Time Limits for Filing an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim
A statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time a claimant (known as a plaintiff) has to file a lawsuit. This statute pushes the legal process forward while evidence is still available and fresh in the minds of witnesses. When the statute of limitations expires, any right to take legal action on a matter is gone. So, anyone who may want to file a lawsuit must know their rights and take action.
Like every state, Arizona limits the amount of time a family or estate has to go to court and file a lawsuit over a wrongful death. A wrongful death case generally must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased’s death or sometimes sooner, depending on when the harm first began. If the case is not filed within this statute of limitations, the court will likely dismiss it.
If an injury directly contributed to a death, the statute of limitations may begin at the time of injury or at the time of reasonable discovery, when “you knew or should have known.” This could mean that the statute of limitations starts to run, and may even expire, before the death. This can happen in particular in products liability cases involving injuries caused by defective or dangerous products.
We Can Help
Contact Rowley Chapman & Barney as soon as you can to schedule a consultation with a personal injury specialist who can tell you your rights and when the statute of limitations expires. If you have questions, give us a call at 480 833-1113 or send me an email at [email protected]