Wrongful death cases are the most tragic and catastrophic cases that we handle at our law firm. We take very seriously our solemn duty to seek justice for the deceased and the surviving members of his or her family. Wrongful death litigation is complex and requires expertise on survival actions—which are different than wrongful death actions—as well as Arizona lien and “right of recovery” laws.
Parties Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In Arizona, if someone is killed as a proximate result of the negligence of someone else, the wrongful death beneficiaries include the “surviving husband or wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.” A.R.S. § 12-612.
If one of the statutory beneficiaries pursues a wrongful death claim, that statutory beneficiary and the attorney for that statutory beneficiary owe the other beneficiaries a fiduciary duty in pursuing the claim. Put another way, the statutory plaintiff in a wrongful death action represents all other beneficiaries who have a legal right to be compensated for their loss resulting from the victim’s death. A.R.S. § 12-612; Wilmot v. Wilmot, 203 Ariz. 565, 58 P.3d 507 (2002).
If there is a settlement or a judgment, the amount recovered in an action for wrongful death “shall be distributed to the [statutory beneficiaries] in proportion to their damages[.]” A.R.S. § 12-612. This principle is very important and will be enforced by a court order if necessary.
How a Survival Action Fits Into the Equation
In wrongful death claims, we often see significant bills from emergency responders, air ambulances (medical helicopters), emergency rooms, and medical providers, particularly in cases where the decedent survived for a period of time before ultimately succumbing to their injuries. These bills, if permitted to be collected against the settlement or judgment, can subsume all of the funds available to the beneficiaries, resulting in no actual compensation for a surviving family member’s loss.
Arizona law addresses this problem in a very important way. Under Arizona’s wrongful death laws, “[t]he amount recovered in such action shall not be subject to debts or liabilities of the deceased, unless the action is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate.” A.R.S. § 12-613.
It is extremely important for a litigator of a wrongful death claim to understand the differences between a wrongful death action and a survival action, and to distinguish between claims by statutory beneficiaries and claims brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate. All of these complex and technical issues can significantly affect the final compensation outcome for the surviving members of the decedent’s family.
Consult With a Wrongful Death Attorney
If you have suffered a wrongful death in your family in Arizona, we would be honored to offer you a free consultation. There are important legal deadlines of which to be aware, so consulting with a lawyer as soon as possible is essential to preserving your right to pursue the claim. Contact us today to get started.
Losing a loved one is extremely difficult. We are honored to seek justice for those surviving family members in memory of their loved ones lost to negligence. Please understand that this website is designed to be educational only. Nothing on this website constitutes legal advice. You should always speak directly with an attorney for legal advice.