Two years from the date of death caused by the defendant. This statute of limitations, like most statute of limitations (but not all), is still subject to the “knew or should have known standard.” This knew or should have known standard concerns the time the statute of limitations commences. If a person dies in an automobile accident- then it is clear and easy- 2 years from the date the person died in the accident. If the person died due to asbestos exposure from construction the decedent worked on that occurred 5 years prior to the death, then the “knew or should have known” issue begins to become relevant.
Wrongful death claims, while sharing the general 2-year statute with other personal injury claims, is actually quite different than other personal injury claims. When a person dies, the decedent essentially loses his or her claim. However, the Arizona legislature enacted laws (statutes) that allow the 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. The “survivors” as referenced in the statute, would be the family members of the decedent. If an improper act caused the death of the family member, 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 as it concerns claims by the surviving family members:
- The wrongful death “beneficiaries” include only the following: (a) surviving spouse of the decedent; (b) surviving parents of the decedent; and (c) 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, the beneficiary that files the claim must 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.
There is a specific jury instruction provided to juries to instruct the jury on the law on the type of damages they may award wrongful death beneficiaries. It states as follows:
If you find [name of defendant] liable to [name of plaintiff], you must then decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate [name of each survivor] [separately] for each of the following elements of damages proved by the evidence to have resulted from the death of [name of decedent]. 1. The loss of love, affection, companionship, care, protection, and guidance since the death and in the future. 2. The pain, grief, sorrow, anguish, stress, shock, and mental suffering already experienced, and reasonably probable to be experienced in the future. 3. The income and services that have already been lost as a result of the death, and that are reasonably probable to be lost in the future. 4. The reasonable expenses of funeral and burial. 5. The reasonable expenses of necessary medical care and services for the injury that resulted in the death.
Emotional distress may be a consequence of losing one’s family member. While not specifically referenced in the above-referenced jury instruction it would certainly fit within the description of damages set forth in the number 1 and specifically number 2 category listed in the instruction.
Remember, wrongful death law in Arizona can be extremely complex. Make sure you have the right law firm representing you, it will make all the difference in your case.