Has a loved one suffered a wrongful death?
While accidents may happen all the time, if a person’s life is cut short due to the negligence of another person, the law provides for legal remedies in the form of a “wrongful death” claim. Like all states, Arizona has enacted specific laws that address these claims. These laws set forth liability, who has the right to file a claim, and the damages that may be recovered under such a claim. If you have experienced the death of a loved one and believe someone else’s negligence played a role, you have a right to speak with an attorney. At Hirsch & Lyon, we are dedicated to protecting our clients’ rights. To schedule a free consultation call 602-535-1900 today.
Who We Help
Our attorneys regularly advise and represent families who are struggling with the aftermath of tragic accidents, such as:
- Rollover accidents where the victim was ejected from a vehicle and killed;
- Intersection or T-bone accidents where a driver smashed into the side of another vehicle, killing the driver or passengers inside the other vehicle;
- Pedestrians struck and killed by an automobile as they crossed the street at an intersection (cases involving jaywalking may still result in recovery with a thorough investigation);
- Truck accidents and 18-Wheelers;
- Motorcycle accident;
- Other types of negligence-related
Who Is Liable for a Wrongful Death?
Section 12-611 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) provides that when a person’s death is due to a “wrongful act, neglect or default,” a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed if the deceased individual would have been entitled to recover damages based on the “wrongful act, neglect or default” that caused his or her death. Put simply, because the injured party is no longer alive, certain survivors have the right to recover damages by initiating a lawsuit against the negligent party. Anyone considering filing a suit should first consult with an attorney to ensure their rights are protected.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In the state of Arizona, when an individual’s death is caused by a “wrongful act, neglect or default,” certain persons may bring a lawsuit if the decedent would have had the right to pursue a personal injury action had he or she survived.
Under A.R.S. Section 12-612, the following parties are permitted to file legal action for a wrongful death in Arizona:
- The spouse of the decedent
- The child of the decedent
- The parent or guardian of the decedent
- The personal representative of the deceased person for and on the behalf of the surviving spouse, children or parents
- A personal representative on behalf of the deceased person’s estate (if none of the above survive)
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under Arizona law, several types of damages may be recoverable in a claim. These damages include the costs associated with medical, funeral and burial expenses, along with the surviving family member’s pain and suffering and loss of love and affection. The parties to the action may also be able to recover compensation for the loss of earnings of the deceased.
A.R.S. Section 12-613 addresses how damages are to be awarded for wrongful death cases in Arizona. The language in the statute is very broad and provides that the jury shall award the surviving parties “such damages as it deems fair and just” taking into account the “mitigating or aggravating circumstance attending the wrongful act, neglect or default.”
In a lawsuit, two categories of damages can be awarded:
- Damages to compensate the surviving family members for the loss of their loved one. These damages are generally paid directly to the decedent’s family members and include compensation for pain and suffering and loss of companionship, care, comfort and guidance.
- Damages to compensate losses to the deceased person’s estate. These damages are typically paid to the decedent’s estate and include such items as funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost wages and benefits the decedent would have earned, damages to the decedent’s property and other losses.
Loss of Earnings Claims
When a life has been cut unnecessarily short by the negligence of another person, surviving family members often face tremendous financial struggles in addition to insurmountable anguish and grief. In many cases, the deceased person may have been a major or primary breadwinner for the family, leaving the survivors wondering how they will ever be able to survive financially. While this can be an extraordinarily challenging time, it is important to know that when a death occurs, the family and the estate of the deceased may have the legal right to recover monetary compensation for their losses. Even though no amount of money can ever erase your pain or bring back your loved one, monetary compensation can help ease your current financial struggles and provide for you and your family’s future.
Securing Compensation for Loss of Earnings in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
We have substantial experience helping family members recover the financial support they need when a loved one is needlessly killed in an accident. In a claim, the parties to the action can seek recovery of the earnings the deceased individual would have provided to the household, had he or she not died through the negligence of others. Determining the exact amount of damages recoverable is a complex process that takes into account both the present and future loss of earnings of the decedent.
When our firm files a lawsuit, we work closely with expert witnesses who can establish the loss of future earnings based on multiple factors, including the decedent’s age, work experience, work expectancy, job promotion and inflation. An economist can best provide our legal team with the present value of the decedent’s lost earnings, taking into account the time value of money. These calculations are exceedingly complex, so it is essential to ensure that your attorney has a close working relationship with an economist that they trust, as loss of earnings is often the largest component of damages in a claim. It is also critical to make sure that your lawyer can recommend a competent tax professional who can provide you with the skilled advice you will need before you receive any compensation in the case. In many cases, a large settlement in an action can impact other government benefits you may be receiving. The right legal and tax professionals can help you avoid jeopardizing these benefits
Loss of Love and Affection Claims
When a loved one dies through the negligence of some other party, a well-established part of the case is the loss of love and affection. Whether your family member was killed in a car crash, truck collision or some other tragic event, bringing a lawsuit to collect damages for the loss of love and affection requires an experienced lawyer. To successfully recover these types of damages, the evidence in the case must establish how the loss has affected the party bringing the claim.
How Much Are You Entitled to in a Loss of Love and Affection Claim?
A critical factor in a loss of love and affection claim is providing the court with evidence that the surviving party lost someone that they had built a strong, stable relationship with. Evidence that can help demonstrate such a relationship includes a marriage license showing years of marriage, birthday and anniversary cards and photographs of the parties together during vacations and travel and other shared activities. Additional support may include testimony from family members, friends and clergy that establishes the relationship between the claimant and the deceased, as well as evidence showing that parties took care of one another when they were ill.
While many people equate the loss of love and affection with the loss of physical intimacy and sexual intercourse (sometimes called the loss of consortium), the damages actually involve far more and include the loss of assistance, comfort and companionship as a result of the death. Quantifying the exact value of these damages can be difficult, and an experienced lawyer can best evaluate your situation and advise you the legal options that may be available in your case.
Do Auto Insurance Companies in Arizona Provide Compensation for Car Accident Deaths?
In most wrongful death actions related to car accidents, the consumer automobile policy is not adequate to fully compensate the surviving family members for their losses. We will carefully explore additional available sources of compensation. For example, if a drunk driver caused your family member’s death, our legal team will investigate to determine whether the restaurant, bar or other establishment that served the driver can be held responsible under a Dram Shop liability claim.
In other situations, the presence of defective tires or a faulty roadway design may result in additional compensation for our clients. Additionally, if the driver was on the job when the car accident happened, we may be able to pursue financial recovery under the employer’s liability policy. In every case we take on, our objective is to help our clients receive full financial compensation for their losses. This means that our legal team will aggressively investigate to determine whether any umbrella policies can provide additional compensation beyond the driver’s own limited liability policy.
Questions About Your Rights and Legal Options? Contact us Today
We understand that the premature loss of a loved one can be not only heartbreaking for the remaining family members, but it can be financially devastating, particularly if your deceased loved one was the sole means of income for the family. We also know that there is no amount of money that can bring back your loved one. However, it is important to hold those responsible for your loved one’s death accountable for their actions. You will undoubtedly face a number of unexpected, but necessary, expenses, such as funeral expenses, medical costs and future lost wages. The laws addressing legal actions are complicated, but we can help you obtain the compensation to which you are entitled for your loss. Call us today at 602-535-1900 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney at our firm.
Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Have to Go To Court to Get Wrongful Death Damages?
Many people want to obtain damages after a loved one passes away; however, many are frightened by the prospect of going to court and some simply do not want to deal with the stress of a trial. While you can pursue a case in civil court to obtain damages, it is not always necessary for your case to go to trial. In fact, in many circumstances, cases are resolved outside of the courtroom through settlement negotiations.
Settlement means that the defendant (or his insurer) agrees to accept responsibility for the death and will provide compensation. When you settle a claim, the defendant or insurer agrees to pay you a set amount of money for the losses that you have endured. In exchange for receiving the money that was agreed to in the settlement, you must sign a waiver of liability.
It is important to note that once you settle a claim, you cannot change your mind. The waiver of liability applies and is permanent – even if it later turns out that you sustained more damages or more losses than originally anticipated. That said, you should make certain that you fully understand the damages to which you are entitled before you agree to a settlement.
Ultimately, you will benefit by agreeing to settle since you will have the certainty of knowing that you will be compensated and you will have avoided having to be present at court hearings. Likewise, the defendant or insurer benefits because they will also have certainty. As long as the settlement is fair, negotiating an out-of-court settlement can sometimes be the best outcome for all parties.
How Do I Negotiate a Settlement for Wrongful Death Damages?
Before you negotiate a settlement for damages, you need to know what your case is likely to be worth so you can ensure the settlement offer you accept is fair. An attorney can help you understand the damages to which you are entitled so you will know how much compensation you likely deserve.
There are different approaches to the negotiation process, but having an attorney represent you is generally best because your lawyer will have the necessary knowledge and skills to maximize the settlement offers you receive. You will be negotiating with an insurance company in almost all cases, as it is the insurer who pays damages after most fatal accidents. Please note, however, that the insurer’s goal is to pay you as little as possible. Accordingly, you need a committed advocate on your side who can help make certain that you obtain the money you deserve.
Your attorney can help you send a demand letter specifying the amount of compensation you believe would be appropriate given the nature of your losses. Your attorney can also represent you during the negotiation process and advise you of your rights before you agree to accept any settlement offers.
Can I Make a Claim Against Multiple Parties in a Wrongful Death Case?
There are certain circumstances where it may be possible to hold multiple parties accountable for a fatality. This can be helpful in circumstances where one individual who is liable for your losses does not have sufficient insurance or sufficient assets to provide you with full compensation for all of the losses you have endured.
One example of a situation where you could potentially make a claim against multiple parties is when you are involved in an auto accident with someone who was on-the-job at the time of the incident. Under these circumstances, you could potentially pursue a claim against the driver who hurt you. But, because the driver was working, the driver is considered an agent of his or her employer. The actions of an agent are the equivalent of the employer’s actions, so you could possibly pursue a claim against the employer too.
In the case of a truck accident, trucking companies are required to have substantial insurance – with a minimum of $750,000 in liability coverage for most trucking companies and a minimum of $5 million for trucking companies that transport hazardous material. Being able to pursue a claim against a company with more insurance can help you to ensure you are fully compensated for all of your damages.
What Do I Have to Prove When Making a Wrongful Death Claim?
To make a claim, you will need to prove that the defendant or party you are making a claim against was directly responsible for causing the death at issue to occur. Essentially, you have to prove that the other party acted negligently or failed to fulfill a legal duty.
In a civil case for damages, you do not need to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt as you would in a criminal case. The standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. In other words, you must show that it is more likely than not that the other party against whom you are pursuing the claim was negligent or unreasonably careless such that it caused the death to occur as a result of his or her wrongful actions.
You will also need to prove the extent of the damages that you have endured. An attorney can help you find expert witnesses and obtain solid evidence of the extent of your losses so you can be fully compensated.
Why Is It Important to Have an Attorney When Dealing With Wrongful Death Claims?
As noted above, during the negotiation process, the insurers handling the claim are looking to provide you with the minimum amount of compensation possible because they want to protect their bottom line. That being the case, you need an attorney to help you negotiate a fair settlement and review any offers before you sign and give up your right to make a claim for damages in the future.
If your case will go to court, there are rules of evidence to follow and you need to be able to present evidence to the jury in a compelling way. An experienced attorney can provide the help that you need to make the strongest possible case so you can maximize your chances of being compensated for all of the losses you’ve endured.
Contact us Today
If you have lost someone you love and are considering filing an action, our legal team is here to help. We offer free consultations during which we will answer your questions and help you determine the best path to take to recover the legal damages you may be entitled to. Call us today at 602-535-1900 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney at our firm.