What Is Wrongful Death?
When your family member or loved one dies unexpectedly, it can feel as though your life has been turned upside down. You may wonder how such a terrible event could happen so suddenly. In many cases, a premature death might have been prevented if someone or some organization had taken better care. If your loved one’s death could have been prevented, you may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.
The family of a victim usually files a wrongful death suit. This is a civil action that is separate from criminal prosecution. A Phoenix wrongful death attorney can file a suit for any death caused by a “wrongful act, neglect or default.”
Negligence or mishandling can happen for many different reasons. It is difficult, therefore, to list the full range of scenarios a legal expert can assist with. Some of the most common, however, are:
- Defective products and dangerous drugs
- Criminal acts and violence
- Motor vehicle collisions
- Burns from accidental fires
- Medical malpractice
Each year in the United States, accidents cause many fatalities. According to the Center for Disease Control, accidental injuries are the third most common cause of death. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace accidents caused a staggering 4,764 deaths in 2020. Approximately a third of these occurred during vehicular transportation. Hazardous exposure to harmful substances constituted another significant proportion.
What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Criminal Homicide?
Not all wrongful fatalities are accidents. Other incidents are intentional or criminal. Burglaries that cause loss of life or street fights that turn fatal are classic examples of wrongful incidents. In such cases, you may be entitled to compensation even if the defendant was found not guilty in criminal court. The Brown and Goldman families of the OJ Simpson murder case, for example, famously sued Simpson successfully after he was released from murder charges.
Criminal and civil fatality cases can result in different outcomes for the victims’ families because the standard of evidence is lower for civil cases. Where a criminal trial demands the prosecution present proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil cases require only a “preponderance of evidence.” To meet a preponderance standard, a family only needs to show that there is a higher than 50% chance that the claim is true.
What Does Compensation Consist Of In a Wrongful Death Case?
When you lose a loved one, it’s difficult to quantify the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. For some, it might even seem insensitive even to consider profiting from such a loss. You should think carefully, however, about the impact your tragedy will have on your life. People are irreplaceable, but compensation can fund schooling, charity efforts, and other altruistic causes.
Sometimes, you incur direct costs after someone dies. These costs can include:
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost wages the deceased person might have used to support the family over their lifetime
- Direct damages, such as damages to a vehicle or business space
In Arizona, the law separates damages into economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages, such as those listed above, may be higher than you first realize. Over someone’s full life, they can generate a lot of financial support through income and other assistance. When this income is promptly and unexpectedly cut off, it can be devastating.
While noneconomic damages, such as grief, suffering, pain, and loss are harder to prove and therefore harder to obtain financial compensation for, they are equally important. Even certain “intangible” services a family member provided might have been indispensable to you or your loved ones. Arizona has no cap on the amount of money a family can request in a wrongful death suit, and this can make noneconomic awards easier to come by.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
Only certain people with an established familial connection to the deceased person can file a suit. This is because the person seeking compensation must prove they suffered economic and noneconomic losses as a direct result of the death.
A good way to determine whether a suit might be valid is by asking yourself whether the person who died as a result of negligence or misconduct could have filed a personal injury lawsuit. Because the person is no longer there to represent themselves, you can step in as a substitute.
The individual or individuals who may bring a suit varies by state. In Arizona, any member of the deceased person’s immediate family, including children, spouses, parent or guardian, or personal representative, also known as an executor, can file. An executor specified in a will often has the sole right to bring a suit to court.
How Long Does It Take To Settle A Wrongful Death Suit?
If you believe you may have a case, you should file within two years of the fatal incident. If you don’t meet the two-year deadline, you probably won’t have your claim heard in court. Because you have likely incurred expenses as a result of the fatal incident, it’s best to file as soon as possible. It can be difficult to deal with payments such as mortgages, rent, or other large expenses in the interim, and you should consult with a financial expert, if possible.
As with any legal proceeding, wrongful fatality suits can take a long time to settle. There are a lot of factors that can increase the amount of time it takes to receive your compensation. In Arizona, most cases take between one year and four years.
Of course, not all cases are settled. This is why it’s important to obtain an expert legal opinion on whether you should accept any compensation offered. Sometimes, it may be wiser to proceed through the legal system.
Where Can You Find Help for a Wrongful Death?
If you’ve lost a family member, you should consult a Phoenix personal injury lawyer as soon as you can, even if it seems too early. At Sargon Law Group, we have years of experience handling even the most complicated wrongful death and personal injury situations. For a free legal consultation, contact us online or by phone today.