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The term "wrongful death" usually refers to an unintentional death caused by another person's negligence or reckless conduct. Examples include auto, truck, motorcycle, boat and bicycle deaths caused by negligent, careless, inattentive, speeding and drunk drivers; drowning; pedestrian deaths; construction accidents and OSHA violations; defective or dangerous products; and even deaths caused by shootings, stabbings or strangling, where those deaths could have been prevented by good security measures.

Whether your loved one was a wage earner, a child or retired, if the death was caused by the carelessness of another person or company, a wrongful death claim or lawsuit may be the most appropriate course of action for the surviving family members and loved ones left behind. We apply a comprehensive understanding of the justice system that will be used for the benefit of the family members after a wrongful death. Whether the death was the result of an automobile accident or some other preventable tragedy, the pain, anguish and financial problems thrust upon the surviving family are multiplied exponentially.

At The Watkin Law Office, PC we recognize the grief and suffering our clients are experiencing and our primary objective is to help alleviate some of that pain and ease some of those burdens. When you come to our firm, you won't be treated as another case number, but will receive personalized attention from a veteran trial lawyer, who will walk with you every step of the way.

What can we do for you?

Let us answer your questions, guide you through this complex process, and obtain the financial restitution you and your family deserve after losing a loved one due to the fault of another person or entity. Perhaps because these wrongful deaths were so unnecessary and preventable, survivors are often left feeling overwhelmed by their grief and obsessed with a feeling that the party responsible for the death needs to be punished, or at least "made to pay" for their losses. In Arizona, the immediate family members (spouse, children, and parents) are entitled to bring a claim for the wrongful death of their spouse, parent or child. In fact, the law encourages survivors to file a lawsuit to recover monetary damages from the party at fault. We urge you to contact The Watkin Law Office, PC to schedule a complimentary consultation to thoroughly review your potential wrongful death case.

Monetary Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Claims for wrongful death can be very intricate, especially when multiple parties contributed to the victim's untimely death. Our experience – and statistics -- suggests that most individuals choose to aggressively pursue the claims against the responsible party and their liability insurance carrier and ultimately negotiate a "settlement" of their claim rather than proceed to a jury trial. In some cases the other family members of victims can either choose to go to trial or they may even be unable to reach a settlement with the other party. In either case, a formal lawsuit alleging wrongful death is usually filed in Court -- generally by a surviving spouse, parent or child of the person who has passed away. Unfortunately, extended family members and siblings are usually not entitled to recover under Arizona's laws.

In Arizona, either the jury or the judge (if there is no jury) will decide how much money to award the "statutory survivors" of the decedent. This amount will vary greatly and will depend upon various factors including (but not limited to) how much money the deceased would have provided to the survivors if he or she had not been killed (e.g., salary, wages, money for college, pensions and other non-specific amounts) plus money to compensate the survivors for the loss of love, affection, companionship and guidance of the deceased.

The factors are very broad and intended to cover the many types of losses that might be suffered, whether the survivor is a parent, a spouse or a child of the decedent.

As you might imagine, it is not easy to put a monetary value on the loss of a life; but money is the only civil remedy available to someone who has lost a family member through a wrongful death incident. Thus, when a jury measures a victim's loss, its determination will include a review of both objective and subjective data, such as:

  • How much money did the deceased earn?
  • How much money did the deceased save?
  • How financially dependent were the survivors on the deceased?
  • The health and life expectancy of the decedent and his survivors
  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost benefits, such as insurance, from the death
  • Loss of inheritance from an untimely death
  • Pain, suffering or mental anguish suffered by the survivor of the decedent
  • Loss of companionship, care or protection
  • Punitive damages, intended to punish wrongdoers and prevent them from harming others
  • Loss of Parental guidance
  • Loss of Companionship
  • Loss of Affection

The wrongful death lawsuit is meant to compensate certain surviving family members, not necessarily to punish the party responsible for the death. Punitive damages are available, however, if it can be shown the defendant acted with evil, reckless or malicious intent. Ironically, if the defendant's actions were "intentional," then any insurance he or she may have will likely not cover the claim. It can get rather complicated.

Not all of the emotional harm suffered by the plaintiff can be compensated by the court. Some aspects of what the decedent contributed to the family, however, are "calculated" by the court:

  • Expense associated with the death, e.g., medical and funeral.
  • Lost benefits, such as insurance, from the death
  • Loss of inheritance from an untimely death
  • Pain, suffering or mental anguish suffered by the survivor of the decedent
  • Loss of companionship, care or protection
  • Punitive damages, intended to punish wrongdoers and prevent them from harming others
  • Loss of Parental guidance
  • Loss of Companionship
  • Loss of Affection
  • Medical expenses (this only applies in claims brought by the "estate" of the decedent, not in wrongful death claims by his survivors, which only seek monetary damages for their own pain, suffering and economic losses.)

The wrongful death lawsuit is meant to compensate certain surviving family members, not necessarily to punish the party responsible for causing the death. However, punitive damages are available when it can be shown the defendant acted with evil, reckless or malicious intent. If the defendant's actions were "intentional," it is highly likely that any liability insurance policy he or she may have will exclude coverage for an intentional act. It can get rather complicated.

In making this determination, the court will look at the strength of the relationship between the plaintiff and the decedent. The weight the court gives this type of loss changes based on the particular state's laws.

The Wrongful Death of a Child or an Elderly Person

Regardless of the age of your lost loved one, and regardless of your own age, you will suffer grief. Since there is no way to replace your family member, and neither a Judge nor a jury can "bring him or her back," it is impossible to accurately measure your loss in dollars. Yet, money is the only thing the law can provide as compensation for your loss, so it is critical that you talk to an experienced lawyer about when, how and how much money the law will allow for your loss.

When an adult has died in a wrongful death incident the economic damages his survivors have sustained can usually be quantified (e.g., wages/salary he earned, rate of savings, likely pension, etc.) In contrast, when it is a minor child who has died, there will usually not have been any economic contributions or support to his family, so the impact of his death on his family must be measured in other ways. The child's parents (natural or adoptive) can recover for the loss of their child's love, companionship and affection; and if the minor child was married, then his or her spouse (and children) can recover for their losses.

The wrongful death of an elderly person can leave the spouse or children with a loss of both companionship and monetary contributions. Although the decedent may have been retired and no longer a wage-earner, the surviving spouse may have been relying on the pension of the deceased; if the pension plan does not have a survivorship benefit, the spouse may have lost quite a bit of money due to the death of his or her loved one. Many courts will take this into account when calculating damages. Courts also may take into account the companionship, guidance and affection provided by the elderly person to the children or spouse. On the other hand, the court will also factor in the age of the decedent and his statistical life expectancy; the damages will be calculated taking all of these elements into consideration.

All of this is a very simplified view of a very complex area of the law. It would take hundreds of pages to better explain this area of the law; and because the laws of various states differ, it must again be emphasized that any person who has lost a loved one because of the negligence, recklessness or intentional wrongful conduct of another should immediately consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney in Scottsdale, AZ.

Time Limits - Statute of Limitations

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one due to wrongful death, the last thing you may want to think about is how your legal rights are affected. The law surrounding wrongful death, however, allows legal action to be taken only for a limited period of time. It helps to ensure that the legal process moves forward and that documentary and scientific evidence is still available, and that eye-witness and ear-witness recollections are still fresh in the minds and minds of potential witnesses. When the statute of limitations has run, there is no longer an entitlement to take legal action on a matter. Thus, it is critical that anyone considering whether they have a legitimate claim for wrongful death immediately consult an experienced Arizona wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Find out if the circumstances surrounding the death of your family member qualify as a wrongful death; and if so, bring a claim as soon as possible to preserve the claim.

Contact our Arizona wrongful death lawyer today!

Clark Watkin has practiced trial law in Arizona since 1977. He is skilled and accomplished as both a settlement negotiator and a trial lawyer and has handled complex civil trials throughout his career. The Watkin Law Office, PC always strives to obtain the maximum amount of full and fair compensation to help your family recover from your devastating loss and to continue on with life. Contact us at (480) 347-9804 to arrange a consultation. When results matter, choose our firm.

Clark Watkin of The Watkin Law Office, PC is a Arizona accident lawyer who represents serious personal injury clients throughout Arizona, including Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Peoria, Cave Creek, Carefree, Fountain Hills and Paradise Valley.

IMPORTANT: If an insurance claim representative for the person at fault calls to "interview" you, decline -- at least until you have spoken with an attorney. Despite what the insurance adjuster might tell you, he or she is NOT "just trying to help."

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