Though money won’t bring back a loved one who is killed by another, this is the way in which the law compensates survivors of someone who is wrongfully killed. These damages are obtained in a civil action called a wrongful death action. In Arizona, wrongful death actions are governed by Title 12, Chapter 6, Sections 12-611 through 12-613 of Arizona Revised Statutes.
Section 12-611 sets out the conditions under which a person or corporation will be held liable for wrongful death. First, the death must have been caused by a wrongful act or omission. Second the conduct would have led to legal liability had the victim of it not been killed. Wrongful death actions can be brought even where murder or manslaughter charges are brought in criminal courts.
The parties who are allowed to bring a wrongful death action are set out in Section 12-612. These include parents, children, spouses and guardians of the deceased. The personal representative of the deceased’s estate may bring an action on behalf of survivors with the legal right to sue for wrongful death or it there are none, on behalf of the estate. A personal representative is a person named by a will to handle the estate.
The jury is charged by Section 12-613 to award damages that are “fair and just with reference to the injury resulting from the death to the surviving parties.” The law also requires that the jury take into account any mitigating or aggravating factors in deciding the amount of damages to award. Juries can award damages for medical and funeral expenses, loss of present and future support. Plaintiffs in wrongful death suits can also receive damages for pain and suffering, except when the personal representative of the decedent’s estate brings the action.
Under Section 12 – 542 (2), suit must be brought two years after “the cause of action accrues” in a wrongful death suit. This means that the suit must be brought within two years after an injury causing a wrongful death occurred or it reasonably should have been discovered. This rule covers the situation where an injury causing a wrongful death does not become known until long after it occurs or even the wrongful death itself. For instance, suppose someone is exposed to chemicals, at work or in their home, which are later found to be hazardous to long term health, such as causing cancer. If it were not for this rule, suit would be barred two years after the exposure ended, even if they only discovered the chemicals were harmful or they were even exposed to them and died, years later.
Arizona State Legislature. (n.d.). Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 12, Chapter 6, Sections 12-611 – 12-613. Retrieved February 1, 2011 from http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp?Title=12