Your heart says it was a wrongful death, but what will the court say?

When someone you love is killed unexpectedly, your human nature wants to blame someone as you begin the grieving process. The intense heartache and overwhelming personal and emotional trauma that occur can devastate you, leaving more questions than answers. Add in the financial stress that occurs when an income earner passes, and you will find yourself with a deep desire to hold someone accountable.

Wrongful death can give you a way to get compensation and retribution if someone you love is killed because of someone else, but not all deaths can be called "wrongful deaths" from a legal standpoint. Even if your heart says it was wrong, the courts may not agree.

However, if someone else is the cause of your loved one's death, it's possible that you may be able to claim a wrongful death lawsuit. Before you start looking for help, take the time to learn more about what the law says about wrongful death claims.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

When someone dies because of the legal fault of another person, those left behind may be able to file what is known as a "wrongful death" claim. Specifically, the Arizona Statute Sections 12-611 through 12-613 indicates a wrongful death occurs when someone is killed "by the negligent, reckless or intentional actions of another." These claims can be fairly simple, like a car accident where fault is clearly seen, or they can be more complex, like a medical malpractice claim that requires careful consideration of all of the facts to determine wrongdoing.

Wrongful death also requires loss to those who are left behind. If someone is killed in a wrongful death case but no one left behind suffers, the courts will dismiss the case. The lawsuit will seek financial compensation not only for the harm caused to the decedent but also to the harm caused to survivors.

What Type of Wrongdoing Can Lead to a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death occurs when an individual is killed because of the action, inaction or recklessness of another.

These terms are sometimes difficult to define.

For example, people usually understand that wrongful death occurs when someone else purposefully acts in such a way that leads to a death, but legally the action does not have to be intentional. Sometimes wrongful death can occur when someone else acts negligently, such as failing to act as a "reasonable person" would have in a specific situation, and when that individual has a legal or ethical obligation to act. Sheer recklessness, such as driving at an unsafe rate of speed, can be a legal cause. Companies can even be held liable for wrongful death if their products kill someone. In these instances, no intentional action was taken, but the entity responsible is still at fault.

So would the courts find your case to be an instance of wrongful death? Here are some obvious scenarios that can lead to wrongful death if someone is killed:

  • Car accidents with distracted drivers
  • Drunk driving fatalities
  • Motorcycle crashes
  • Accidents where the driver was at fault and the passenger was killed
  • Accidents involving semi-trucks
  • Unsafe or defective products
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Tripping hazards
  • Fatal bicycle accidents
  • Swimming pool hazards
  • Nursing home abuse or neglect

Some less obvious times when wrongful death can be claimed include:

  • Negligence in security
  • Offering alcohol to minors or someone known to be a driver
  • Negligence in properly building roads or buildings
  • Negligence in providing adequate warnings to potentially fatal hazards

Drugs and alcohol are dangerous and can lead to death. Often individuals assume that their deceased loved one is the only one who bears fault for this, but not necessarily. Physician negligence which leads to drug-related deaths or defective labeling on drug inserts and packaging that does not clearly outline potential side effects can be cause for a wrongful death claim.

The key in each one of these instances is not that death occurred, but rather the reason that death occurred. In order for the courts to agree that your case is, in fact, a wrongful death case, your lawyer will need to prove that the other entity's action or inaction was the true cause of the death, and that you suffered as a result.

What Is Not a Good Case for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Unfortunately, not all cases can be considered wrongful death in the eyes of the law. Sometimes, an individual will be killed in an accident, and it may appear that someone else is at fault, but the courts will find that wrongful death is not a valid argument.

For example, if an individual is engaging in a potentially dangerous activity, such as bungee jumping, and an accident leads to the individual's death, wrongful death is going to be difficult to prove. These activities are known to be dangerous with the potential for serious injury of death, and the individual will have to sign a waiver to participate in the first place. Unless an attorney can prove that safety protocols were not followed properly, the death will be tragic, but not a wrongful death.

Similarly, some products represent a risk to an individual. Small items, for instance, are a choking hazard. If your loved one used a product in a way that it was not intended to be used, and was killed as a result, the product's maker is not liable. Also, if the product had adequate warnings, the maker would not be liable.

Trip and fall cases are another instance where wrongful death can be difficult to prove. Sometimes a person will trip, fall and end up with fatal injuries on a perfectly safe or properly marked walkway or path. In this case, wrongful death does not occur. On the other hand, if a business or municipality leaves a known tripping hazard in a walkway without warning signage, and someone dies as a result, then the entity's negligence plays a role and a wrongful death case is possible.

Providing someone with dangerous drugs is a cause for wrongful death, but only in certain instances. If an individual knowingly takes a drug that is prescribed in a manner considered safe, and that drug has proper warning labeling, then that individual's family does not have a wrongful death case. Similarly, if someone overdoses on illegal drugs, attained those illegal drugs intentionally and used them illegally, then those who sold the drugs cannot be held liable. The individual knew the risk and chose to engage in the behavior, removing the liability from the other parties involved.

As you can see, these cases can be incredibly complex. What may seem obvious to you is not always obvious in the courts. That's why a thorough understanding of wrongful death law and the cases that came before you is important when you head into a wrongful death case.

Dealing with the aftermath of a loss is painful and overwhelming. You may be due compensation for your loss, and while that will not lessen the pain you are experiencing, it can lessen the financial burden so you can be free to begin the healing process. Understanding the realities behind wrongful death law will help you know how to best proceed after your loss.