Hutzler Law is Here For You
Losing a loved one can be devastating. It can be more overwhelming when your loved one’s death was caused by the intentional or negligent actions of others. It is possible to hold the person or company that caused your loved one’s death accountable by filing a wrongful death civil lawsuit. By filing a wrongful death claim, you might recover monetary compensation to pay for your economic and noneconomic losses.
While no amount of money can ever replace your loved one, recovering damages can help you to pay for the staggering expenses that you might face as a result of your loved one’s death. The legal team at Hutzler Law understands that the family members of the deceased victims are also victims and are dedicated to helping people to recover compensation to pay for all of their losses.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under the common law, the ability to recover damages following an injury ended when the victim died. Family members were unable to file lawsuits against the people who caused their loved ones’ deaths and were often left without resources to manage the staggering expenses with which they were left. Arizona recognized the injustice of this and passed legislation to allow certain family members of people who are killed because of the negligent or intentional actions of others to file lawsuits to recover damages. Arizona’s wrongful death laws are found under Arizona Revised Statutes § 12-611, 12-612, and 12-613.
Under A.R.S. § 12-611, wrongful death leading to liability occurs when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful or negligent actions or omissions of another person or entity. The statute allows wrongful death claims to be filed if the victim would have been able to recover damages for personal injury if he or she had not succumbed to his or her injuries.
Under A.R.S. § 12-612, only people with specific types of relationships to the decedents are allowed to file wrongful death claims. The following people may file wrongful death lawsuits in Arizona:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving child or children
- The decedent’s surviving parent or guardian
- The decedent’s personal representative on behalf of the surviving spouse, children, or parents
If there is no surviving spouse, child, parent, or guardian, a wrongful death claim can be filed by the personal representative on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
Wrongful death claims can arise from negligent acts or omissions as well as from intentional acts. Some of the types of cases that might involve wrongful deaths include the following:
- Drunk or drugged driving accidents
- Birth injuries caused by medical malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents caused by negligent motorists or defective car parts
- Elder abuse
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Slip and fall cases
- Assaults and other criminal acts
The legal team at Hutzler Law is dedicated to helping the survivors of victims who have been killed to hold the responsible parties liable for their actions and to recover compensation. Recovering monetary damages from the defendants can provide the surviving family members with some financial security so they can concentrate on the process of grieving and the myriad tasks that they must manage after the deaths of their loved ones.
Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
The amount of compensation that might be available to you in a wrongful death lawsuit will depend on several factors. An experienced wrongful death attorney at Hutzler Law can value your claim and provide you with a range of values within which a reasonable settlement should likely fall. Wrongful death damages may include compensatory and punitive damages, depending on what occurred. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate you for your losses and can be further divided into special and general damages.
Special damages are monetary amounts that are meant to compensate you for your economic losses. These are losses that are fairly simple to value and include the following types:
- Medical expenses incurred to treat your loved one from the time that he or she was injured until he or she died
- The money that your loved one might have earned over his or her lifetime based on his or her age, educational level, occupation, and life expectancy
- Funeral and burial costs
- Property losses
- Lost inheritance rights
General damages are monetary amounts that are designed to compensate the surviving family members for their non-economic losses. These might include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium, support, and guidance
- Emotional distress
Punitive damages are monetary awards that are designed to punish the defendants rather than to compensate the victims. If punitive damages are awarded in your case, you will receive additional money beyond what is necessary to compensate you for your economic and noneconomic losses. Punitive damages are generally awarded only in cases in which the defendants’ actions are particularly outrageous. For example, if a pharmaceutical company actively marketed a dangerous drug as safe while hiding the fact that it was dangerous to human life, punitive damages might be awarded against the company in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits vs. Criminal Cases
In cases in which criminal charges are filed against the perpetrators of wrongful deaths, some people believe that they either can’t file civil lawsuits against the defendants or that they need to wait until the criminal cases are over. They might also believe that there is no point in filing wrongful death lawsuits since the state is pursuing criminal charges against the defendants.
You should understand a few key differences between wrongful death claims and criminal charges. Wrongful death claims fall under the state’s civil laws while criminal cases fall under the state’s criminal laws. Since they fall under different bodies of law, wrongful death claims and criminal cases are allowed to be filed and to proceed simultaneously.
You should not wait for a criminal case against the defendant who caused your loved one’s death to end before filing a wrongful death claim. Serious criminal cases such as murders can take several years to reach their conclusion because of the serious penalties involved. Arizona has a civil statute of limitations for wrongful death claims that are found at A.R.S. § 12-542. Under this law, a wrongful death claim must be filed no later than two years after the victim’s death.
If you wait for the criminal case to end before filing a wrongful death claim, you may lose your right to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. The statute of limitations serves as a time-bar for recovering damages in civil lawsuits. If you try to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the limitations period has expired, your claim will likely be dismissed.
Burden of Proof in Civil Cases
A large difference between criminal cases and wrongful death lawsuits is the burden of proof that must be met. In criminal cases, the liberty of the defendants is at stake. Because of the potential loss of liberty, criminal prosecutors have the burden of proving criminal charges against defendants beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high standard to meet.
By contrast, civil claims, including wrongful death cases, do not involve the potential loss of the defendants’ liberty. Instead, defendants who lose wrongful death claims will have to pay monetary damages. Since they will not face the loss of their liberty in wrongful death lawsuits, the burden of proof is lower. The plaintiffs must prove the cases against the defendants by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that it is more likely than not to have occurred as the plaintiffs have claimed.
Since the burden of proof in civil wrongful death lawsuits is lower, it is sometimes possible for plaintiffs to prevail in their civil cases even though the defendants are found not guilty in their criminal cases. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or entity that caused your loved one’s death, you may be able to hold the defendant accountable for his or her actions regardless of whether he or she is found not guilty in the corresponding criminal case.
One famous example that illustrates why it is important to file a wrongful death lawsuit even though a criminal case has been filed against the defendant is the O.J. Simpson case. O.J. Simpson was arrested and charged with murder in the 1990s after he allegedly killed his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson was found not guilty after a criminal trial that captured the attention of millions of Americans. However, the Goldman and Simpson families were able to hold him accountable for his wrongful actions by winning their civil wrongful death claims against him.
How a Wrongful Death Attorney can Form a Case
Deaths can be caused by many different circumstances. When a death is caused by negligent or intentional actions or omissions, you may be left facing staggering financial losses at the same time that you are dealing with your grief and emotional distress. When someone else is responsible for causing your loved one’s death, you may be entitled to recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. Recovering damages can help you to cover your losses while you work on getting your life back on track.
No matter how someone dies, losing a loved one can be a traumatic and difficult experience. It can be even more devastating when your loved one was killed because of the intentional or negligent actions of others.
At Hutzler Law, we believe that the surviving family members of people who are wrongfully killed should be entitled to recover the maximum compensation to pay for all of their losses. We also work hard to recover punitive damages so that the defendants can be punished for what they have done.
While we understand that money will never replace your loved one, it can provide your family with the financial means that you need to pay for your expenses. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit may also provide you with a way to hold the defendant accountable even if he or she is ultimately found not guilty in a criminal case for the same incident.
Hutzler Law offers free and confidential consultations for the surviving family members of people who have been wrongfully killed.
When you meet with one of our experienced lawyers, we can explain the legal options that you have and offer you guidance on the next steps that you should take. We believe that people and entities that cause the deaths of others should be held accountable for their wrongful actions and will aggressively represent your interests to protect your rights.