In the state of Arizona, loss-of-life claims — more specifically, wrongful death claims and survival claims — are a category of injury claims brought either by the surviving family members, or by the estate of the deceased individual. When a person is killed due to the negligent or otherwise wrongful acts of another, then Arizona law may entitle a qualified subset of survivors to pursue an action in litigation against the defendant and recover damages.
When most laypeople think of loss-of-life claims, they tend to think of “wrongful death.” Survival actions are an important part of the legal landscape, however, and may lead to significant damage recovery.
So, what’s the difference? Let’s take a look.
Survival Actions vs. Wrongful Death Actions
Survival actions are fundamentally different than wrongful death actions, though these differences are often misunderstood.
Stated simply, survival actions are brought against the defendant (who is responsible for causing the death at-issue) on behalf of the deceased individual. In essence, a survival action gives the estate of the deceased an opportunity to recover damages for the wrongs committed against the deceased individual. It arguably acts as a form of claim preservation — whatever claims the deceased would have had in the event they survived, are preserved and may be pursued by their estate.
Suppose, for example, that your loved one is killed in a motor vehicle accident by a distracted driver. Their death was not immediate, however. After a week of attempted treatment, your loved one finally succumbed to their injuries. Their estate (managed by their personal representative) would thereafter be entitled to sue the defendant-driver and recover damages for the personal losses suffered by your loved one.
Wrongful death actions are also brought against the defendant (who is responsible for causing the death at-issue), but not on behalf of the deceased individual — instead, it is the surviving family members who bring a wrongful death action. In essence, a wrongful death action gives those surviving family members a right to recover damages for the losses they suffered as a result of their loved one’s death. Wrongful death claims have nothing to do with the particular losses suffered by the deceased.
Let’s return to the previous example. Suppose that your loved one is killed in a motor vehicle accident by a distracted driver, but the death is immediate. As one of the qualified surviving family members, you would be entitled to bring a wrongful death action against the defendant-driver to recover damages for “your” losses, which may include pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses (paid out of your pocket), and more.
It’s worth noting that survival actions and wrongful death actions are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible for the death of a loved one to give rise to both types of actions.
Filing a Claim
Survival actions must be brought by the estate of the deceased (which is likely administered by the personal representative of the deceased). Though surviving family members are not necessarily entitled to bring the action — unless one of them is serving as the personal representative, of course — they are most likely the ones who will benefit from the eventual damage recovery.
For example, if the estate brings a survival action against a defendant and secures $100,000 in damages, then those funds will eventually be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. If you and your sibling are the two sole (and equal) beneficiaries, then each of you will receive $50,000 more than originally anticipated.
Damages in a Survival Action
In Arizona survival actions, the law allows for the recovery of damages for lost wages, funeral expenses, burial expenses, and medical expenses (paid by the deceased). Depending on the circumstances, punitive damages may also be available.
Unfortunately, however, there are strict limitations on “pain and suffering” recovery — section 14-3110 of the Arizona Revised Statutes specifically restrict recovery of pain and suffering damages in a survival action.
Schedule a Free Consultation With a Skilled Phoenix Wrongful Death Attorney
Loss-of-life claims can be particularly confusing for those who have little (or no) experience with injury lawsuits. Depending on the type of action — wrongful death or survival — litigation will proceed quite differently. Given the relative complexity of such litigation, it’s important that you get in touch with an experienced attorney who has a proven track record of success in handling wrongful death and survival actions.
Here at Hirsch & Lyon, we bring decades of combined experience in loss-of-life litigation to bear in representing those affected by the wrongful death at-issue. We are committed to the provision of client-oriented legal advocacy. Not only are we paid on contingency (e.g. we are only paid if you succeed in recovering damages), but we accept a reduced fee in comparison to competitor firms. We also keep our clients “in the know” with regard to developments in the case, and work with them to ensure that our strategic goals are aligned.
Call (602) 535-1900 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Phoenix wrongful death attorney here at Hirsch & Lyon. We look forward to assisting you.