Statutes of Limitations

How long do I have to make a claim against criminals or other individuals responsible for a person's death?

In general, the statute of limitations to bring a claim for wrongful death or for personal injury is two years from the date of the occurrence. If you wait too long to file your lawsuit, you are barred and cannot recover financial compensation. However, some exceptions exist.

For example, in a medical malpractice case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date you knew or should have known medical malpractice occurred.

When a minor has a cause of action, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the minor is 18. In other words, whatever the applicable statute of limitations is, it does not begin to run for a child until the child has his or her 18th birthday.

There are other shorter statutes of limitations. In a case against a governmental municipality or government employee, a written claim must be made for a specific sum of money within 180 days after the cause of action occurs. In addition, a lawsuit against any government entity or public employee must be brought within one year from the time the cause of action occurs. We have had cases against a police department for chasing a suspect through a crowded city street only to have the suspect crash into an innocent girl, killing her. In that case, expert testimony was presented establishing that the chase should not have taken place. (The suspect they were chasing was actually a man who had committed no crime at all. He was trying to reconcile with his wife and had left a note on her door. The man fled from police believing he was in violation of a court order telling him to stay away from his wife.)

What if you do not know who the perpetrator is? Although it has not been expressly decided by the Arizona appellate courts, in this author's opinion, generally, if the responsible person has concealed his identity, the statute of limitations does not run until the victim knew or should have known the identity of the perpetrator.

Is the victim entitled to recover damages?

The largest element of damage is usually loss of companionship. When a parent loses a child, as a general rule, it can be argued that the child would have been alive for the remainder of the parent's life. Consequently, courts look to annuity tables to determine the life expectancy of the parent. There is no fixed rule to determine the amount of damages. However, in establishing the amount of damages, lawyers present evidence of the close relationship between the survivors and the decedent. Telephone bills, copies of Mother's Day and Father's Day cards, photographs, videotapes and other tangible evidence are used to establish the closeness of the relationship. Similarly, anecdotal testimony is permitted to establish the close relationship between the decedent and the survivors.

In addition, economists may be hired to establish the loss of income to the family. Finally, burial expenses and other out-of-pocket expenses relevant to the decedent's passing are recoverable.

If you or a loved one has been injured during a crime committed in Southern Arizona, or a family member died in an alcohol-related fatal accident, and you are at all unclear as to statutes of limitations and the extent of recoverable damages, contact Southern Arizona Crime Victim Attorneys in Tucson. Your initial consultation is free. The number to call is 520-628-8878. Our lawyers respond promptly to all email messages.