In Arizona, when a person dies as a result of another party's accidental or intentional action, the deceased person's family or estate could be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this article, we'll examine several key aspects of the laws that apply to wrongful death claims in Arizona, including:
Arizona law defines a "wrongful death" as a death that is caused "by wrongful act, neglect or default." (Arizona Revised Statutes § 12-611 (2021).) In other words, a wrongful death occurs when one person dies as a result of the legal fault of another person or entity, including by:
As in other types of personal injury lawsuits, the defendant's liability in a successful wrongful death case is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation ("damages") that the court orders the defendant to pay to the deceased person's survivors or estate. This is one major difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal homicide case, where a conviction can result in jail or prison time, fines paid to the state, probation, and other penalties.
There are other differences between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit. For instance, in a criminal case, the accused's guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is a very high bar for the prosecution to clear. In a civil lawsuit, the defendant's liability must be shown only "by a preponderance of the evidence," meaning it's more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the death. It is possible, though, for a single act to result in criminal charges and a wrongful death claim: A defendant can be sued for wrongful death in civil court while facing criminal charges related to the same death.
A wrongful death case may be brought to court if the deceased person could have filed a personal injury lawsuit based on the wrongful or negligent conduct that caused his or her death. In other words, a wrongful death case is like a personal injury case in which the injured person (the deceased) is no longer able to bring the claim on his or her own behalf. Instead, someone else must step in and file the lawsuit.
According to Arizona law, the following people are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state's civil courts:
If the deceased person is a child, either of the child's parents or a legal guardian may file a wrongful death claim on his or her behalf. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-612 (2021).)
Read more about who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In a wrongful death case, "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—are typically divided into two categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages typically include money paid to the deceased person's survivors to cover financial losses associated with the death. In Arizona, some common economic damages include:
Noneconomic damages can be more difficult to quantify than economic damages, but they are intended to compensate for the intangible losses suffered by the deceased person's family as a result of the death. Noneconomic damages can include:
Some states cap the amount of damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a wrongful death suit, but Arizona has no such limit. Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death claims must be filed within a specific period of time, set by a law known as a statute of limitations. In Arizona, a wrongful death case must be filed within two years of the date of the person's death. If the case is not filed within this time period, the court will likely refuse to hear it altogether. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-542 (2021).)
If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Arizona, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. Wrongful death cases can be complicated, and an experienced lawyer can explain how the law might apply to your specific situation.