On May 26, 2011, Division One of the State of Arizona Court of Appeals issued an opinion, 1 CA-CV 09-0751, in Walsh v. Advanced Cardiac Specialists Chartered. The underlying case, Maricopa County Case Number CV2006-003676, commenced during 2006. The jury trial for the legal claim of Wrongful Death took place in 2009. Litigation is rarely quick.
In December 2003, Jerome Walsh and his wife, lifetime residents of Minnesota, were in Arizona. Jerome became ill and was treated by the defendant. Jerome’s wife and adult children claimed that the defendant failed to diagnose and cure Jerome’s heart infection, with the result of such failure causing Jerome’s death in March 2009.
The jury found in favor of the family. The jury awarded $1,000,000 of damages to Jerome’s surviving wife and simultaneously awarded the adult children zero damages. The adult children appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the jury award. The Walsh decision overturns two previous decisions with retroactive force.
A Wrongful Death claim is one that is created by statute, by the legislative body. One may have a Wrongful Death claim, but a jury may determine that a person suffered no damage and deny any financial award if that is a “fair and just” outcome. Negligence is a claim that can only exist if damages exist. The distinction is important, and easy to confuse.
The Walsh court carefully distinguished that “damages in a wrongful death claim are not tied to the liability-causing event (the negligent act). Rather, damages are based upon on the injuries that come from the result of the negligent act (the death).” ¶13. It is the injuries that the survivors incur because of the decedent’s death that are compensable, not the negligent act causing the death.
This is the right result. While a spouse might be financially harmed by the death of her husband, by way of lost income or otherwise, what is the financial harm to an adult child by the same death? In theory, adult children financially support themselves. If financial support had been forthcoming for any reason from an adult child’s parents, and one of the parents is still living, then the surviving parent can choose to either continue such support or not.
The Arizona legislative body has agreed that specific persons should have the right to bring Wrongful Death claims. It is the plaintiff who has the burden of proof, not the defendant. Juries generally compensate those who have been harmed in a “fair and just” manner. The Court of Appeals does not, and should not, upend a jury verdict. The Walsh decision is just.