A Discussion on Section 12-612 of the Arizona Statutes Regarding Wrongful Death Claims
“Wrongful death” occurs when there is a “death caused by the willful or criminal act of another. The death may be caused by the negligence, recklessness, incompetence, or intentional acts of another.” In Arizona and most other states, the wrongful death action is not a criminal proceeding. A person is entitled to compensation for damages resulting from the death of another within one year after the date of occurrence of the wrongful death. [ARS 12-612]
If the family of a loved one is suing for damages, in Arizona, a cause of action is established by suit. The “damages” that form the basis of this prosecution arise from the statute as opposed to common law. Simply put, it is a statutory claim available under Arizona law.
In Arizona, there are two kinds of claims that are used in wrongful death cases. These are:
1) Damages for emotional distress; and
2) Punitive damages.
The aim of this article is to discuss wrongful death claims and wrongful death actions, but the Court does not allow for punitive damages under Ariz. law. This means that as an individual or business, you cannot be sued for punitive damages.
Overview of how to file a claim in relation to wrongful death actions
The statute begins by defining “wrongful death.” The statute states that the person causing the death may be an individual and/or a corporation and stipulates that;
1) The injured person must file the claim within a year of the date of death. If the claim is made after one year is up, it will be barred by statute.
2) A wrongful death action cannot be brought against a volunteer firefighter or peace officer acting within the scope of their employment.
3) A wrongful death action cannot be brought against an employer for deaths occurring on or off-site during work hours.
4) The action cannot be brought for the death of a person who is married to the party bringing the claim.
The statute specifically states that the wrongful death claim is limited to:
- The decedent’s spouse, parents, or children.
- Other heirs or issues as defined by law.
In addition to damages, a plaintiff may ask for other remedies including:
- For expenses prior to death incurred by the decedent.
- For the removal of a decedent’s remains or bodily remains.
- For damages for loss of services, if the decedent was employed at the time of death.
- For damages for physical injury, including pain and suffering, and disfigurement caused by the wrongful death. *
- For other damages allowable under the statute as though it were a tangible item in addition to bodily injury and emotional distress claims. *
- For damages resulting from the loss of consortium and companionship.
- For punitive damages as provided in 12 – 612.
- The court may allow for a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees for the prosecution of a claim under this section.
If a person dies without leaving any heirs or leaves only one heir, then the state can file suit on behalf of that person, to qualify for a wrongful death claim then the appropriate court will determine what the decedent’s heirs are entitled to. For purposes of this statute, two persons can be considered as the same class if their relationship is the same or substantially similar (as defined by law).
Ariz. Stat. 12-612 defines “wrongful death” as follows:
- Wrongful death occurs when a death is caused by the willful or criminal act of another.
- The death may be caused by the negligence, recklessness, incompetence, or intentional acts of another.
Note: The statute specifically defines “criminal act” as follows:
- Conduct that is prohibited by state or federal law; or
- If no criminal charges are filed against the party causing the death, then the wrongful death claim must meet all of the following criteria:
- The person must cause an injury to another person and that action must be considered dangerous to life;
- The injury must have been inflicted by the willful or criminal act of the other (A.R.S. 12-612(A)(3)); and
- The wrongful death claim must be filed within one year after the date of death (A.R.S 12-612(A)(2)).
The definition of a “criminal act” is somewhat ambiguous, but if it is not defined as a criminal act, then a wrongful death claim cannot be brought against an individual or business in any respect whatsoever based on this statute.