A wrongful death claim is more a description of a procedural process than it is a description of the claim. When a person dies, they essentially lose their claim. However, the Arizona legislature enacted laws (statutes) that allow the claim (or similar claim) to be prosecuted by either (1) decedent’s estate or (2) family members of the decedent, which the legislature has specifically listed in the statute or both. Thus, a wrongful death claim is a statutory claim that arises if the legally wrongful or improper actions or inactions of a tortfeasor (the wrongdoer) cause the death of a person (victim/claimant). The acts or inactions of the tortfeasor establish the claim. For example, if the tortfeasor intentionally injured the victim, the underlying claim may be assault, battery, false imprisonment or whatever intentional tort caused the death of the victim. Likewise, the underlying action that caused the victim’s death may have been unintentional such as negligence or medical malpractice. Regardless of what the underlying act consisted of, the assertions of the specific tort that applies must be pled. However, because the act or failure to act (depending on the facts of the case) led to the death of the victim, the underlying tort claim must be pled or prosecuted under Arizona’s wrongful death statutes (A.R.S. § 611 – 613). Consequently, the wrongful death statute becomes the mechanism for prosecuting the underlying claims against the wrongdoer (tortfeasor).
Because the improper act caused the death of the victim, the claim must be pled and prosecuted under the wrongful death statutes. As such, the statute itself defines the claim, when the claim must be filed, those that may make the claim and the remedies permitted. Here is what Arizona’s wrongful death statute permits:
- An estate may be opened for the decedent and the decedent’s estate may assert a claim. The estate, however, is limited to the following remedies: (a) medical expenses that were caused by the wrongful act that lead to the death, and (b) funeral expenses. Thus, while the estate does have a claim, its remedies are severely restricted. It is not entitled to lost income or pain and suffering.
- The wrongful death “beneficiaries” include only the following: surviving spouse of the decedent; surviving parents or the decedent; and surviving children of the decedent. No other relatives of the decedent have a claim.
- While all of the referenced wrongful death beneficiaries may have a claim, only one of the beneficiaries may file the claim- but when doing so, bring it on behalf of ALL the wrongful death beneficiaries.
- The wrongful death beneficiaries’ claims are essentially a loss of consortium claim- meaning the damages they may claim is the loss they each may have suffered from the loss of the decedent. Thus, while all of the beneficiaries listed in the statute have a claim, the monetary value of each of their claims is based on the quality of the relationship they had with the decedent. Thus, a beneficiary that had a close and long-lasting relationship may have a greater monetary loss than a beneficiary that had a poor relationship with the decedent. In addition, the beneficiaries (more applicable to children or spouse of the decedent rather than the parents of the decedent) may have a claim for the loss of the income for which decedent was supporting during the decedent’s life.
Wrongful death law in Phoenix, Arizona can be very complex. Make sure you have the right personal injury law firm representing you.