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Although there are strict laws in place in Arizona to protect elders from abuse, there are still high levels of neglect, according to Arizona Adult Protective Services.

In addition, figures from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office show there are up to 6,900 cases of abuse every year.

While financial and emotional abuse is rife, physical abuse and neglect also happen all too often. In many cases, it can be difficult for nursing home patients to explain what is happening. In some circumstances, like dementia, the patient may not be fully aware of the abuse that is occurring. At its worst, this abuse can lead to wrongful death.

Neglect or a failure to act on known problems is another serious issue, which can lead to the injury or wrongful death of a care home resident.

If this has happened to you, it’s likely there are facts surrounding wrongful death that you may not understand. In this article, we’ll answer key questions, including a question that naturally arises: who will receive payment in a wrongful death settlement?

Understanding Arizona’s laws

Each state has its own laws regarding who will receive the settlement from a wrongful death. In Arizona, these are set out Revised Statute 12-612. Under the Statute, any damages will distribute the settlement to:

  • A surviving spouse (husband or wife)
  • Child
  • Parent/guardian
  • Legal or a personal representative

However, if there are no surviving relatives, any settlement will become part of the deceased estate.

How are damages decided?

A judge will award compensation according to each party’s losses. In a nursing home wrongful death settlement, this will cover costs such as

  • Pain and suffering
  • Grief
  • Loss of companionship
  • Lost income and pensions
  • Future loss of earnings
  • Funeral expenses
  • Financial losses

The amount of damages will depend on the plaintiff’s relationship with the deceased.  For example:

  • A spouse could receive specific damages for lost income and companionship.
  • A child of the deceased may receive damages for loss of guidance and companionship.

As set out in statute, a judge will decide what is a fair amount for each family member.

Receiving the payments

Plaintiffs typically receive payments in two ways: a once off settlement or a structured settlement. The type of settlement you choose will depend on your personal situation.

  1. Once off settlements may be a good choice if there are large medical bills and a mortgage to pay and you face a loss of income.
  2. A structured settlement can give you a steady yearly income. The downside of this is that it has a rigidity that is difficult to alter should your financial circumstances change

Types of nursing home wrongful death

Wrongful deaths can occur for a variety of reasons. In a nursing home, it could be because an individual member of staff was careless and failed to follow guidelines or care plans. Alternatively, the home may have poor procedures in place or known safety issues that it didn’t address.

Examples of a wrongful death include:

  • Untreated infections or bedsores that lead to the patient developing septicemia
  • Failure to provide adequate nutrition
  • Denial of medications needed to keep the patient healthy, or the wrong dosage is given to the patient.
  • Failing to monitor patients/prevent wandering, which leads to a patient falling and injuring themselves.
  • Lack of adequate safety. If a nursing home failed to put measures in place to prevent an elderly patient from climbing out of bed, and it injured the patient.

Wrongful death FAQs

Are there any reasons individuals may be denied payment?

As set out in Arizona statute there are some circumstances that exempt an individual from receiving compensation. These apply if a part is:

  • found guilty of or guilty except insane for, or pled guilty or no contest to, a violation of section 13-3623 involving the death of the child decedent
  • Or in violation of section 13-1103, 13-1104 or 13-1105 involving the death of the decedent, the party is deemed to have predeceased the decedent and is disqualified from recovering wrongful death benefits.

The full statute with all of its exemptions is available to view online.

Do I have to pay tax on awards or settlements?

You rarely have to pay taxes on a wrongful death settlement. However, taxes may come into play if they have left you a considerable estate, or if punitive damages are awarded.

Although there is no estate tax in Arizona itself, federal state taxes may still apply.

You can find out more about the tax implications of receiving a wrongful death settlement here.

How much will my settlement be for?

Generally speaking, a lawyer cannot say precisely how much the defendant will settle your case for. However, there will be several factors that can contribute to the final amount, including:

  • Your family circumstances. For instance, a young family with children is likely to receive more than a retired couple with non-dependent children.
  • The insurance coverage. If a corporation, organization, or similar caused the wrongful death, they would settle according to their insurance company’s policy limits. If the value of your losses exceeds the policy limits, you would need to go to court.
  • The ability of your legal team. An able lawyer on your side with expertise in wrongful death is better able to secure an improved financial outcome.

Will other taxes apply?

Inheritance taxes may apply if you inherit from a state which charges inheritance taxes. These taxes don’t apply to a surviving spouse.

What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for Wrongful Death settlements?

There are calls to grant nursing homes legal exemptions COVID-19 pandemic.

However, some residents and their families are already taking legal action over the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). And there are concerns incidents of poor care or neglect may increase.

But regardless of the pandemic, nursing homes must provide your loved one with the usual high level of care. If you have concerns this isn’t happening, speak to a lawyer.

What else does the judge consider when awarding damages?

Aside from your emotional, non-emotional and any punitive damages, a judge will examine any mitigating and aggravating factors and this may be reflected in your damages.

Does every case go to court?

No, not all cases end up at court, which is good news for grieving families that can find the thought of a court case difficult to bear. In some cases the defendant may settle the dispute before it goes this far.

Will I Have To Pay a Medical Lien?

This depends on the lawsuit you filed. If your lawsuit covered costs for medical bills, then you would need to pay a Medicare or Medicaid Lien from your settlement. This applies to both wrongful death settlements and to survival actions.

Will I Inherit the Deceased Debts?

No. However, if the action is taken by a representative acting for the deceased, then the estate will inherit any debts.

Will an insurance policy cover a wrongful death suit?

Sometimes, the insurance policy will not be enough to compensate you and your family for your loss.

In addition, if the actions of a defendant were deliberate, then their liability insurance won’t cover them.

In these circumstances, you may want to consider other options. A lawyer can explain these to you.

Does each family member need to file a claim?

No. Only one person needs to file a claim on behalf of the rest of the family. A lawyer can talk you through this.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you feel a loved one’s death occurred because of another party’s negligent actions, a lawyer can help you by:

  • Gathering the facts
  • Determining if your case meets the standards for a wrongful death
  • Explaining the best ways forward and how a case will proceed
  • Gathering documents
  • Speaking to witness
  • Filing notifications to the defendant

Contact Thompson Law

Losing a loved one is never easy. Those left behind often feel a sense of injustice, anger and helplessness. These are normal feelings, which are heightened if you feel the trauma of your grief could’ve been avoided.

Although you may feel you are alone in a situation like this, seeking some level of closure is possible through legal means.

Seeking compensation for the wrongful actions of another party isn’t about a financial award. It’s about holding those responsible to account, covering your financial burdens, and allowing you to move on from the sense of injustice you may feel.

To find out more about pursuing a wrongful death settlement in Arizona, contact The Thompson Law Firm.

Our experienced attorneys offer comprehensive guidance on all personal injury matters by phone or video conference call.

Our team of lawyers work closely with their injury clients across Arizona, communicating clearly whilst offering reassurance and empathy through an often very difficult and emotional process. During the free consultation, our lawyers will discuss your concerns before creating a comprehensive plan for you, while also assessing the strength of your claim.

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