What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Arizona?


In some cases of wrongful death, the evidence of wrongdoing may not be clear until later after the victim’s death. For example, in instances of medical malpractice, evidence of malpractice may not be found immediately for any number of reasons. 

In instances of wrongful death, the family of the victim may seek restitution for the harm caused by the loss of their relative. However, if one waits too long to file a lawsuit for a wrongful death, sometimes it can result in the case being out of the court’s hands and the victims being left without appropriate restitution. Affected parties in a wrongful death case only have a set amount of time to seek damages through legal means—this is known as the statute of limitations.

In a wrongful death case, victims only have a designated amount of time before they can no longer seek a lawsuit. However, there are several steps you can take to navigate the legal process and seek damages for a wrongful death.

Understanding Wrongful Death, Medical Malpractice and Statute of Limitations

There are several instances where a wrongful death case may call the statute of limitations into question. Medical malpractice is one of the most common reasons for a wrongful death that may call into question the statute of limitations. However, there are other situations where fault for wrongful death may come to light later, like if a product turned out to be defective.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is the act of negligence, infliction of harm, misdiagnosis, or surgical errors by doctors and other healthcare professionals, resulting in the injury of a patient. Many cases of wrongful death that call into question the statute of limitations arise due to an undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed condition.

In the state of Arizona, there is no cap on the damages you receive from successfully suing a dangerous doctor or hospital. Other instances that can be grouped under medical practice can include anesthesia accidents, errors in cosmetic surgery, or nursing home abuse or neglect.

Wrongful Death

A wrongful death is considered a death resulting from medical malpractice or other situations in which the death could have been prevented by a specific party or entity. 

Other potential examples of wrongful death cases can include:

  • An injury from a product that was found to be defective and resulted in death
  • A dog attack or wounds from dog bites
  • Accidents at work due to negligence
  • A fatal car accident that resulted from road issues or negligence from the city or county
  • An aviation accident that resulted in a fatality due to equipment failures or negligence

Typically, a wrongful death suit is sought after when the justice system has failed or is not even attempted on behalf of the deceased. However, the statute of limitations could possibly hinder or outright prevent you from receiving damages for the mistakes or crimes of those who caused the wrongful death. So what exactly does the statute of limitations mean? 

Statute of Limitations 

The statute of limitations are specific laws in place that set the maximum time after a crime has been committed that one can initiate a lawsuit or legal proceeding. If this set amount of time has passed, one may not be able to file a lawsuit or engage in legal proceedings related to the crime or event that occurred.

Statute of limitations laws exist so that a resolution can happen within a reasonable amount of time. This time frame varies from state to state and country to country.

But if a crime has been committed, why should there be a limit on when you can seek action? For terrible things like sexual assault, sometimes survivors don’t speak about their trauma for a long time. It feels like we’re giving a criminal the benefit and an injustice may be happening.

Statutes of limitations exist because it can be difficult or even impossible for someone to defend themselves years after the date in which they were accused of committing a criminal act. Memories and evidence become less credible and reliable over time as well.

Also, statute of limitations exists to provide detectives and prosecutors impetus to close a case quickly and respect one’s right to a speedy trial. The motives of trying to prosecute after such a large amount of time has passed can be a little shady too. Mostly, statute of limitations exist to protect the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”

What Damages Can Be Recovered From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

As outlined by A.R.S. 12-613, in a wrongful death case, a jury may award damages as it deems fair and just by taking into account the harm caused by the person’s death to any surviving family members. 

These damages should also factor in any mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the wrongful act. Damages can include financial compensation for any of the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Compensation for lost income earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages from the negligent party

The damages awarded will also not be subject to any debts or liabilities of the deceased unless the action is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Any money awarded by the court is directed to the benefit of the surviving family members.

Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death in Arizona

According to A.R.S. 12-542, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death, injuries that caused death, medical malpractice, or medical negligence is two years after the death of the victim in the state of Arizona. This limitation period can be tricky depending on the circumstances and may also change in the future. Therefore, it’s helpful to have the support of experienced and qualified legal counsel to understand whether the statute of limitations applies to your case and what options you may have to circumvent them.

What can I do after the statute of limitations has passed?

If the statute of limitations has passed, with very few exceptions, you may be unable to take your civil case to court in or outside Arizona. If you try to file a lawsuit against a hospital or doctor for medical malpractice resulting in a wrongful death after the statute of limitations has passed, the defendants can easily convince a court that proceeding with the suit violates the law and the case could be immediately dismissed.

However, if you are willing to apply your finances and energy into trying, there are exceptions to consider and steps you can take when the statute of limitations has passed. The support of a skilled personal injury attorney can help you navigate the process and give you the best chances for bringing the case to civil trial and receiving financial compensation.

In some cases, there is also the possibility that the statute of limitations begins not at the time of death but at the time of the discovery of evidence that the death was wrongful. For example, if a person passes from medical malpractice, the two-year window may begin at the point where the family discovered that medical malpractice was involved rather than from the time of death. Consulting an attorney will help you determine the best path forward.

The Discovery Rule

Although the statute of limitations for wrongful death by default begins with the death of the victim, sometimes something called the “discovery rule” can come into effect and extend the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit.

The discovery rule is an exception where the statute of limitations does not begin until the injury or evidence of medical malpractice is discovered or “reasonably” discovered. “Reasonably” can be a somewhat loose term in the case.

If a court decides that there is evidence or reason to support the idea that one had every reason to know of medical malpractice occurring or that the victim’s death was clearly a wrongful death, the case could be dismissed if the statute of limitations has passed and there will be no chance of furthering the case.

However, if evidence of medical malpractice or a wrongful death may be found long after the death of the victim and a court decides this is legitimate, you have two years after the discovery to take legal action or continue legal action.

Steps to Take in the Wrongful Death Legal Process

If you suspect a loved one’s death may be due to the negligence of someone, you should take these steps:

  1. Seek legal counsel – Find a good medical malpractice or wrongful death attorney. A law firm with a good track record of winning such cases is ideal. Law firms will usually offer a free consultation of your case. From that, you can see if you realistically have a chance at proceeding with a case.
  2. Gather evidence – Be sure to gather any and all evidence you may have that can prove that not only your loved one’s death was a wrongful one or a result of medical malpractice but also that you discovered the wrongdoing within a specific time frame. Be as detailed as possible and trust your lawyer’s guidance through the case.

At JacksonWhite Law, we offer free case reviews that will provide you with a better understanding of what you can expect from a wrongful death case, and whether or not you have a strong case moving forward. Our consultations are done with attorney Jared Everton, and they’re available over the phone or in our downtown Mesa, Arizona office.

Contact JacksonWhite Law for Support In Your Case

The reality of a wrongful death lawsuit being dropped because of the statute of limitations is daunting and discouraging. There are options for you if the statute of limitations has passed and there is a chance you could continue with a case.

If you have questions about the Arizona statute of limitations for wrongful death, JacksonWhite Law can help. No matter where you are in the legal process, we can help you determine the best path moving forward. Our personal injury team is dedicated to our community, and we make every effort to provide our clients with the highest level of service.

Call our Personal Injury team at (480) 378-8802 to discuss your case today.

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