In Arizona, wrongful death means someone has died and the deceased family believes someone is responsible for their loved one’s death. The process of proving the wrongful death involves making a claim against the individual and moving through a multi-step process in Arizona. These proceedings happen in civil court and are usually filed by close, surviving family members. This post examines the process for recovering damages because a loved one’s death was caused by someone’s negligent or reckless actions.
Step One: The Investigation
Often, family members file a lawsuit in a wrongful death claim. Yet, there are also many cases that are resolved in a fair settlement without any court intervention. Before the family chooses a strategy, an investigation into what happened is first. This portion is vital in learning all the facts. Researching case law and determining details that can prove your case are difficult and require experience. Getting to the bottom of the death and how it occurred means the difference between success and failure in your case, long term. An experienced wrongful death attorney knows which questions to ask witnesses, has relationships with expert witnesses and incident re-enactment experts, and is knowledgeable about the local statutes. Success in assembling a strong case and knowing the correct number to cite in a formal demand for damages during the pre-litigation stage is why you need an attorney in a wrongful death case.
Each wrongful death situation is very different. Sometimes, there are preliminary first steps that must be taken before ever filing a lawsuit depending on the parties that are responsible. In some instances, such as when the responsible party is a government entity or public entity of some kind, a notice of claim must be prepared and filed with that entity. Compliance with rules for legal procedures can be complicated. When you work with a wrongful death attorney rather than attempt to conquer the situation on your own, you can be sure these rules will be followed to the fullest. If you fail to comply, you could put your legal rights at risk.
Step Two: Arizona Wrongful Death Litigation
This stage occurs after all the preliminary work has been completed. A complaint and summons must be filed and defendants, served. The defendants will learn the basics of your claim and facts about the allegations against them. The complaint will list the specific legal claims according to statutes for holding the defendant liable and an inventory of the damages suffered as a result. After the defendant receives this, they may respond with pleadings which gives their account of the allegations and sets affirmative defenses.
Discovery is what happens after the complaint is filed and the defendant responds with pleadings. The plaintiff and his counsel will work to collect information, documentation, and any other evidence necessary for proving their case and for anticipating responses from the other side. Both sides may interview witnesses through interrogatories—written questions asked and answered under oath. They may request production meaning they may ask that the other side produce tangible evidence. The intention is to inspect and copy the evidence. Depositions are also part of the process where the lawsuit parties or witnesses are asked questions under oath in the presence of a court reporter. Another discovery tool is admission which means either side may ask the other to admit or deny individual points or facts of the wrongful death incident.
Naturally, one or both parties may argue certain discovery requests or sometimes, a party may ignore a request. When this happens, the requesting party can motion the court for an order to comply to the request. If the judge wishes, he or she may impose sanctions for noncompliance such as a fine. Or, the judge can sanction the party that failed to respond by presuming the lack of response was because to do so would have favored the opposing party.
Step Three: Settlement and Arbitration
Informal settlement negotiations can begin and may extend throughout the litigation process. This means either or both sides can try to settle the matter themselves, even as the litigation process is underway. Often, a hearing held before the trial called a Status Conference or a Pretrial Conference, allows both parties to attempt a settlement agreement. The hearing also allows an opportunity for the judge to narrow down the issues of the case. This can also assist the judge in managing the litigation if the case is heard in court.
The Wrongful Death Trial in Arizona
When a settlement is not forthcoming, the case will go to trial. Wrongful Death Attorneys are skilled at advising their clients when a settlement is not in their best interest and their chances are better with a trial. Compelling testimony that outlines the loss experienced by the family members is presented as well as exactly what the opposing party did to cause the harm. When all testimony is in, the jury will weigh the evidence and if it decides the defendant was negligent or intentionally caused the wrongful death, it will award damages based on the case facts.
Family members of wrongful death situations are limited by Arizona law regarding the period they are eligible to file a claim. The time limits are set by law and are called the statute of limitations. In Arizona, that time limit is two years from the day of the deceased person’s death.
When a loved one dies unexpectedly because of what is thought to be a wrongful death situation, the grief can be overwhelming. Those who take weeks or months to weigh the facts in determining if they need a wrongful death attorney, may learn too late that precious time is slipping away. To preserve your legal rights, schedule an appointment to get an evaluation of your case. Our experienced attorneys have won hundreds of cases for Arizonans suffering from a loved one’s wrongful death. Call today to schedule your consultation.