There is no greater tragedy than when a loved one’s death is due to the wrongful act or neglect of another. In Arizona, when a person’s death is due to another’s failure to exercise reasonable care or is caused by a defective product, or drug or medical malpractice, certain family members are allowed to sue for monetary damages. Although filing a lawsuit will not lessen your grief or bring back your loved one, it does help your family find closure and move past the immediate crisis. If the family member who died provided for the care and well-being of you and the rest of his or her immediate family, the monetary award will help secure the surviving family’s financial future.
If you are a surviving spouse, child, parent or guardian of a victim of negligent death you may file a Wrongful Death lawsuit in Arizona. In certain instances, a personal representative of the deceased, appointed by the State of Arizona, may file a Wrongful Death lawsuit and recover damages on behalf of the surviving spouse, children or parents or, if none of these survive, on behalf of the deceased’s estate.
If there are no surviving spouse, children or parents, other family members, such as brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins can file a lawsuit through the personal representative on behalf of the decedent’s estate, and they will obtain a share of the estate as determined by Arizona law. Damages on behalf of the decedent’s estate are limited to financial but not emotional damages. In the instance where the suit is brought by the estate of the decedent, the amount recovered by the decedent’s estate is subject to debts or liabilities of the decedent. The amount recovered by the decedent’s estate, after payment of debts or liabilities of the decedent and any probate costs, is then distributed to the estate’s beneficiaries in accordance with Arizona law.
The surviving immediate family members who have suffered due to the death of their loved one will claim emotional and financial damages. When juries decide the damages to award, they take into consideration the decedent’s future earnings and estimated retirement benefits plus the loss of companionship and affection. Damages are distributed by decision of the jury to each surviving family member in proportion to each of their damages. The amount recovered for the individual immediate surviving family members is not subject to debts or liabilities of the decedent. In an action for wrongful death, the jury, before awarding damages, also takes into consideration any mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the wrongful act or neglect that resulted in the death of your loved one. For example, in a case of medical malpractice involving administering the wrong anesthesia, a doctor might have simply grabbed the wrong bottle but if that doctor was under the influence of alcohol and grabbed the wrong bottle, the jury would consider that aggravating circumstances and could award punitive (more) damages.
Some cases involve the defense of ‘comparative negligence’, where the wrongful death was due, in part, to the actions of the decedent. If the facts of this defense are proven to the jury’s satisfaction, the claim of wrongful death is not barred but the damages will be reduced accordingly. To illustrate this point of law, an example of comparitive negligence is this scenario: A decedent was racing along on his bicycle toward an intersection that had a traffic light. He saw that it was yellow and about to turn red and decided to try to go through the intersection before the light turned red. The person accused of the wrongful death was sitting in his car at the intersection waiting for the light to turn green. The defendant was impatient, and just before the light turned green he gunned his car and hit the decedent who was in the middle of the intersection at that moment. Although the death was due, in part, to the decedent’s actions, under the Arizona Revised Statutes, the jury would allocate a percentage of responsibility to the defendant and the decedent and reduce the monetary award accordingly.
For further information, the Arizona Wrongful Death laws can be found in the Arizona Revised Statutes, 12-611, 12-612, and 12-613.