Like all other U.S. states, Arizona has passed legislation that specifically addresses wrongful death claims filed in the state's civil court system. In this article, we'll look at several of those state laws, including what is considered a "wrongful death" in Arizona, who may file a wrongful death claim, and the time limits for filing this kind of lawsuit.
Defining "Wrongful Death" in Arizona
Arizona law defines a "wrongful death" as a death that is caused "by wrongful act, neglect or default." According to A.R.S. Section 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 this 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 to court.
Who May File an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim?
Arizona law limits the parties who may file a wrongful death claim. Those who may file such a claim in an Arizona civil court include:
- the surviving spouse of the deceased person
- any surviving child of the deceased person
- a surviving parent or guardian of the deceased person
- the personal representative of a deceased spouse, child, parent, or guardian, or
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
If the deceased person 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.
Damages in an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim
Damages in an Arizona wrongful death claim are expressed solely in terms of financial or monetary loss. This is one of the primary ways a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case for homicide. In a criminal case, the state brings the case to court, and a defendant's liability is expressed with a sentence of imprisonment or other penalties. In a wrongful death case, the family or personal representative must bring the case to a civil court and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.
Damages in a wrongful death case are typically divided into two categories. The first category includes the losses inflicted by the death on the deceased person's estate, and these damages are typically paid to the estate. This category typically includes damages like:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills, including bills for emergency care related to the deceased person'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, and
- pain and suffering endured by the deceased person before death.
The second category of damages includes damages suffered by family members as a result of the untimely death. This category of damages is typically paid to the family members directly, and it includes losses like:
- the lost value of household services the deceased person performed
- the loss of care, companionship, and guidance, and
- pain and suffering due to the untimely death.
The specific damages that are available in an Arizona wrongful death claim depends in part on who is pursuing the claim in court. For instance, the spouse or child of a deceased person may seek damages for loss of care and companionship, but the estate of the deceased person may not seek damages for that particular type of loss.
When damages are awarded to family members in an Arizona wrongful death case, the surviving family members 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 is binding on all parties.
Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.
Time Limits for Filing an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim
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. This time limit is called a "statute of limitations," because it is set by state law. The deadline is not affected by any criminal case that may also be filed in relation to the death or the events that caused it.
In Arizona, a wrongful death case must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person's death. If the case is not filed within this time limit, the court will likely refuse to hear it altogether. So, it is very important to make sure you comply with this deadline, in order to preserve your legal rights.