Who Gets the Settlement Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Arizona?
Under Arizona law, a wrongful death claim is considered to be a civil claim based on personal injury law. A wrongful death claim may be brought when the injured party, also known as the decedent, died as the result of the fault of the defendant.
Most people who file this type of claim are grieving family members or friends who lost a loved one after a sudden and unexpected means of death that would have been avoided had the defendant not been negligent.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Since a wrongful death claim is civil in nature, the damages awarded by the court, or via settlement, are solely monetary.
Arizona law permits surviving spouses, surviving children, surviving parents or guardians, and personal representatives of these individuals to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their family member.
Who Can’t File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Siblings, other family members, same-sex partners, and common-law spouses may not recover from a wrongful death suit in Arizona. Since a wrongful death claim is civil in nature, the damages awarded by the court, or via settlement, are solely monetary.
This makes wrongful death lawsuits different from criminal charges arising from wrongful death, such as a murder charge, where the punishment is imprisonment and money is not paid to the family of the victim if the defendant is convicted.
How to Divide a Wrongful Death Settlement?
It can actually be quite complicated to determine who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit or how to divide a wrongful death settlement.
Some of the damages may be paid directly into the decedent’s estate if, separate from the loss of the relationship, a personal representative of the estate sues to recover expenses including medical bills.
Examples of damages may include costs such as:
- the decedent’s funeral expenses
- medical bills resulting from treatment prior to the wrongful death
- the value of the decedent’s lost wages
- repair of damaged property that resulted from the incident causing death
Other damages may be paid directly to family members as compensation for their losses. The value of these damages is often more difficult to calculate and may include:
- monetary Support
- pain and suffering
- the loss of companionship and guidance
- the lost value of household services
If a claim is made to recover medical expenses, the recovery is distributed back into the decedent’s estate and goes to the beneficiaries.
If eligible family members file, the settlement is split between them. It is split either in percentages the beneficiaries all agree upon or if they cannot agree, the court decides and allots the property according to the strength of each individual beneficiary’s relationship with the deceased.
How is a Wrongful Death Claim Decided?
In Arizona, there is no limit on the settlement amount that family members may recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. This is different from many other states that cap the total amount of damages that can be recovered, regardless of the circumstances.
In Arizona, there is no limit on the settlement amount that family members may recover in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Arizona also takes into consideration any fault of the decedent when determining who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, the court may determine that the decedent was 25% at fault for the wrongful death and, as a result, only make the defendant pay 75% of the total damages.
What About Multiple Family Members?
If there are several surviving family members who get the money in a wrongful death suit, then the family can decide how to divide the wrongful death settlement.
For some this is easy, but for others, this task can become a source of animosity and frustration among already grieving family members. In certain circumstances, the court may actually apportion the damages to be divided in a certain way as a solution to this conflict.
Is Settlement Money Taxable?
Wrongful death lawsuit money is generally non-taxable in Arizona. This is because the money is considered compensatory, meaning its purpose is to make the estate, or the family, whole again.
Taxing such damages would undermine the purpose behind awarding them. However, if plaintiffs are awarded punitive damages as a result of the wrongful death lawsuit, the punitive damages are potentially taxable in the state of Arizona.
This is because punitive damages go beyond making the plaintiff whole and serve as a punishment to the defendant.
Talk With an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
Ultimately, who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated and fact-specific. As a result, it is important for any prospective plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit to consult with an experienced attorney to better understand the merits of their case, the likely outcome, and who gets the money.
Our attorneys at Goodnow & McKay are experts in wrongful death cases and can help plaintiffs navigate the legal waters and work towards becoming whole again.