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Geoff Trachtenberg
Geoff Trachtenberg
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The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

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Arizona law provides for two causes of action when someone dies: a wrongful death claim and a survival action. The purpose of providing both actions is to give the parties damaged a complete remedy and opportunity to recover the loss sustained.

The wrongful death action is intended to benefit certain survivors — called statutory beneficiaries — such as the decedent’s parents, children, and spouse, and its purpose is to compensate them for the loss of the relationship with the decedent. The survival action is intended to benefit the decedent’s estate, and its purpose is to prevent the tortfeasor’s liability from ceasing upon the injured person’s death.

A survival statute does not create a new claim but merely prevents abatement of the injured person’s claim and provides for its enforcement by his personal representative. The Arizona Supreme Court has succinctly explained:

The [survival action] permits recovery for the wrong to the injured person and is confined to his personal loss while the [wrongful death action] is for the wrong to the beneficiaries, confined to their loss because of the death. The latter begins where the former ends and recovery on both is not a double recovery for a single wrong but rather separate recoveries for different wrongs.

Barragan v. Superior Court, 470 P.2d 722, 725 (1970).