Scottsdale, Arizona


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Geoff Trachtenberg
Geoff Trachtenberg
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Circumstances of Death Are Admissible in Wrongful Death Actions To The Extent They Impact on Shock, Grief and Emotional Distress of Statutory Survivors

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Division One just put out an opinion in Girouard v.Skyline Steel involving interpretation of the wrongful death statute. The case involved admitted liability, but disputed damages where the decedent burned to death in car accident.

The Court clarified that, while pre-death suffering is not compensable in a wrongful death action, the horrific circumstances of the death, the necessity of closed casket funeral, and such were admissible to the extent they impacted on the shock, grief and emotional distress of the surviving father. The Court explained:

In light of the remedial purpose of the Wrongful Death Act, the statute permits a recovery not just for the fact of the decedent’s death, but also for the manner in which the decedent dies to the extent the manner of death makes the experience more difficult for the survivor.

I was not particularly surprised by the result (it’s common sense, frankly), but apparently the trial court did not see it the same way and needed to be reversed. So, unfortunately, these poor people will have to endure another trial going into the grizzly details of the death of their loved one.

One thing that is notable is that the plaintiff did not bring a survival action. Arguably, one could recover for the “experience of death” in such an action, but that matter is not settled in Arizona.