In Arizona, the definition of wrongful death is a death resulting from the negligence or the intentional act of another person or entity. A claim for wrongful death is brought by the personal representative of the estate or by the surviving family members. In essence, the claim for a wrongful death is the claim for personal injury a decedent would have made had the person been alive to do so.
The State of Arizona extends the right to bring a wrongful death claim against the responsible party to the estate or to the family members. If the decedent would have had a viable claim for personal injury, then the survivors have a viable claim for wrongful death. However, the recovery of the damages related to pain and suffering have a different application in a claim for wrongful death.
The same categories of damages in a wrongful death suit follow those of a personal injury suit: economic and non-economic.
The examples of expenses in the economic category are:
- expenses relating to all medical treatment
- expenses relating to the funeral and the burial
- value of the lost wages that would have been earned by the decedent
- replacement and/or repair costs of any damaged property
The recovery of the economic expenses relates to the decedent as they would in a claim for personal injury. Even though these expenses were made on behalf of the decedent, the premise is the same. The decedent needs to be returned to the same financial position as if the accident had not happened. The value of these expenses is tangible and easy to qualify.
The compensation of expenses in the non-economic category relate to the intangible losses suffered by the survivors. Damages relating to an intangible loss are difficult to qualify.
The examples of expenses in the non-economic category are:
- loss of love and affection
- loss of companionship and guidance
- loss of support
- emotional pain and suffering
These non-economic damages relate to the survivors, not to the decedent.
The Damages Award
Unlike other states, Arizona does not place a cap on a damages claim awarded to the survivors. The damages awarded under the economic category are actual. The damages awarded under the non-economic category are subjective and punitive. Punitive damages are intended to punish the person responsible for the accident over and above the recovery of actual expenses.
The value of the economic damages is the minimum value of the wrongful death claim.
There is no set rule or equation placed upon the valuation of the non-economic portion of a damages claim. These punitive damages are based upon the specifics of the case, the circumstances surrounding the event and the conduct of the defendant that led to the accident.