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A routine dental procedure turned fatal at Kool Smiles in Yuma, AZ, in December of 2017 when Zion Gastelum, a two-year-old boy, died after he was administered anesthesia in the dental clinic. The parents sued for medical malpractice, claiming that the procedure was unnecessary, the oxygen tank was either empty or malfunctioning, a staff member silenced the warning alarm, and the boy was left unattended in the recovery room. Attorney Scott Eldredge, who is part of the legal team representing Zion’s family, expressed that his unfortunate death could and should have been prevented. The case concluded with a settlement in 2021.

According to the National Practitioner Data Bank (as reported by Becker’s ASC Review), between 2022 and 2023, Arizona ranked 13th in terms of the number of medical malpractice reports. There were 1,463 incidents of medical malpractice documented in the state within that period. In comparison, California had a much higher number of reported cases, at 5,313. Nevada, on the other hand, which is close to Arizona in terms of land area and proximity, only reported 647 cases. These figures suggest that Arizona hospitals still need to up their efforts to maintain a satisfactory level of safety to prevent cases of medical malpractice.

Arizona’s medical malpractice laws not only establish the standard level of care expected from healthcare professionals but also outline the procedures for seeking compensation in the event of medical malpractice or negligence. This guide summarizes the Grand Canyon State’s statutes to help individuals who are considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice in Arizona?

As established by Arizona law, healthcare providers must perform their duties with the same level of skill and knowledge as would be reasonably expected of a member of their profession or class under similar circumstances. Failure to exercise this accepted level of care, leading to a patient's injury, constitutes medical malpractice. 

Medical malpractice in Arizona encompasses various types of oversight, including misdiagnosis, healthcare-acquired infections, surgical errors, and failure to treat a patient’s medical condition. However, it is important to note that not all medical mistakes can be considered malpractice. For an action to be considered as such, certain criteria must be met.  

Despite their frequent synonymy, medical malpractice and medical negligence each have important distinctions. Malpractice may arise from factors such as complacency, inadequate communication, or flawed design. It is necessary to establish that in malpractice cases, the medical provider intentionally or knowingly inflicted harm or injury to the patient and that a similarly trained medical professional would not have done so. 

In contrast, medical negligence is commonly perceived as unintentional and preventable. With medical negligence, the premise is that anyone could have made the mistake, irrespective of their level of expertise or training. Although the error in question ought not to have been committed, it does not demonstrate a medical professional’s deliberate ignorance or arrogance. An example of this would be administering an insufficient or excessive amount of anesthesia without taking into account the patient’s specific body weight. There was no intention to harm the patient, but the medical professional was not as careful or attentive as they should have been. 

Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Arizona?

In Arizona, a malpractice claim may be initiated against any healthcare professional who holds a valid license, including but not limited to:

  • Physicians;

  • Nurses;

  • Dentists;

  • Medical technicians;

  • Staff members or employees of healthcare providers (when performing official duties).

Claims for medical malpractice are not exclusively directed at medical professionals. In some cases, healthcare facilities may be at the receiving end of a malpractice suit. Among them are hospitals, medical clinics, nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies, and therapy centers.


Medical students are generally not responsible for any errors that may result in harm during their training, provided they are supervised by a licensed healthcare professional. However, a student may be held liable for gross negligence if there is clear and convincing evidence of their reckless actions. Additionally, the law does not absolve the supervising licensed professional of any liability regarding the conduct of the student. 

Arizona also has an existing Good Samaritan Law. This rule protects licensed or certified healthcare providers who offer voluntary care by limiting their civil liability. This law extends to doctors and nurses who provide emergency aid or offer instructions to EMTs or paramedics at accident scenes, as well as those who volunteer their services at amateur sporting events. 

However, the Good Samaritan law does not exempt them from claims when they demonstrate willful misconduct or gross negligence while administering emergency medical assistance. Gross negligence, in this context, refers to scenarios in which a Good Samaritan knows they can potentially injure or harm the person they are trying to help but chooses to reject that knowledge and be involved anyway. 

Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Requirements

The Insurance Information Institute reports that a good number of American physicians encounter at least one medical malpractice lawsuit in their careers. However, Arizona does not mandate its healthcare providers to carry medical malpractice insurance and therefore does not have a minimum requirement. Despite this, hospitals and other healthcare facilities around the state may still require their physicians and healthcare staff to carry one to practice or be granted admitting privileges. 

In general, malpractice coverage extends to medical personnel who provide patient care. There is an inherent risk of injury to patients receiving medical attention, and the provider may be held liable for such. Depending on the provider, malpractice insurance may cover claims arising from prescription errors, misdiagnosis or mistreatment of illnesses, anesthesia errors, and surgical mistakes. 

Insurance companies that offer medical malpractice coverage are also required to inform relevant health professional boards (except the Arizona Medical Board) within 30 days of receiving a written or oral claim. This requirement applies to claims for damages resulting from a mistake, oversight, or negligence while providing professional services, provision of services without informed consent, and alleged breach of contract for medical services.

In addition to those who often play a major role in delivering healthcare services (such as doctors, nurses, and paramedics), other medical personnel who may require and benefit from malpractice coverage include physical therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and technicians. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations in Arizona for Medical Malpractice Cases?

In the state of Arizona, the legal time frame for initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit is two years. Wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice also follow the two-year statute of limitations. In cases where the injured party is a minor or cannot make informed decisions, this time limit may be extended

In addition, the discovery rule may be applicable, depending on the specifics of the case. According to this rule, the time limit starts the moment the injured party acquires knowledge of the negligent actions or ought to have reasonable cause to suspect so.

In the case of Walk v. Ring, the plaintiff underwent a dental procedure and subsequently encountered discomfort in her jaw. It took her five years to discover, through another dentist, that the dental work could have been the cause. While the initial lawsuit was dismissed, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff was permitted to file a lawsuit more than two years after the dental procedure because she lacked sufficient information until the other doctor raised concerns. 

The time limit may be extended if the healthcare provider conceals or lies about the error, as in the case of Walk v. Ring, where the dentist allegedly covered up the mistake by assuring the patient that the procedure was done correctly. 

Claims Against a Public Entity or Employee

The time frame within which a malpractice claim can be filed or lodged against a public entity or employee in Arizona is one year. This is a significantly reduced time for filing, in contrast to the two-year window available for filing claims against other defendants. 

A Notice of Claim must be submitted before initiating a legal action, which provides a public entity with sufficient notice about an impending lawsuit. The notice must be submitted no later than 180 days after the cause of action; otherwise, it will be barred, and no legal action can be further taken.

What Do You Need to Prove in an Arizona Medical Malpractice Case?

For an act to be deemed medical malpractice, certain elements must be met. First, the negligent person must have owed the patient a duty of care, which is typically the easiest one to prove. Second, the duty of care has been breached, which is to say that the healthcare professional failed to provide the level of care that another doctor with similar training or experience would have. Third, the breach was the cause-in-fact and proximate cause of the patient’s injuries. Fourth, the patient suffered harm from the incident.

Rules on Expert Opinion

In Arizona, plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits must show early on that their claims have merit. If an expert opinion is necessary to prove the claim, they must present an affidavit within 60 days after filing the suit. A professional opinion must cover the following:

  • The expert’s eligibility to comment on the healthcare provider’s duty of care or responsibility in connection to the claim;

  • Factual evidence supporting every allegation made against the healthcare professional;

  • The acts, errors, or omissions of the healthcare professional that, in the expert’s opinion, constitute a breach of duty of care, consequently leading to liability; 

  • How the act, error, or omission directly contributed to or was responsible for the damages sought by the plaintiff.

Additionally, plaintiffs cannot just call on any licensed healthcare professional for testimony. According to Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-2604, an expert witness who is testifying against a specialist defendant must also be a specialist in the same medical field. If the defendant is board-certified, the expert witness must also hold the same board certification. For example, a specialist in neuro-oncology may not be brought on as an expert witness against a defendant who is board-certified in gastrointestinal oncology. 

If the accused is a general practitioner as opposed to a specialist, different rules apply. In this situation, a medical expert witness must be a licensed medical professional who has devoted most of their working hours at the time of the events that led to the lawsuit, either working as a general practitioner or teaching students in the same health profession as the defendant.

Sympathetic Gestures and Apologies

A healthcare provider offering an apology or acknowledging responsibility for the unforeseen outcome of a medical procedure is not considered to be admitting fault in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Those statements or comments are not admissible as evidence as a confession of liability or similar scenarios.

How Much Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in Arizona?

The compensation, also known as damages, that one can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit can vary widely based on many factors. These variables include the extent of the harm caused, the impact on the victim’s life, and the costs associated with medical treatment and future care. While there is no price tag for the aftereffects of a botched medical procedure, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help determine how much one can sue.

Types of Damages

There are three types of damages that a victim can collect in a medical malpractice case. First are the economic damages, also known as special damages, which typically refer to financial losses resulting from the malpractice. These may include past and future loss of income, medical treatment costs, and other related expenses. 

Second are general damages, otherwise known as non-economic damages. While more difficult to quantify, this category consists of pain and suffering (such as physical pain, psychological trauma, and mental anguish) and loss of consortium (referring to the deprivation of companionship, affection, love, and other pleasures associated with parent-child or marital relationships).

Lastly, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the healthcare provider’s conduct was intentionally or recklessly negligent and caused the injury. Punitive damages are generally awarded in the most flagrant of circumstances, such as when a surgeon is intoxicated and proceeds to operate on a patient, subsequently causing serious harm.

It is important to note that Arizona does not impose a cap on the amount of damages one can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit. There have been past attempts to amend the State Constitution to have this specific law changed, but so far, none have been successful.

Negligence System

Arizona follows the comparative negligence rule when determining liability in a medical malpractice case. 

The process entails a comprehensive evaluation by the court of all parties involved to determine the extent to which their individual actions contributed to the injury. Each side is then assigned a level of liability. In cases where the injured party is partially responsible, their compensation is proportionally reduced based on the percentage of fault assigned to them. 

For example, a plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim worth $10,000. However, the court determined that he was 40% responsible for the injuries leading up to his claim. Therefore, his compensation will be reduced by $4,000, resulting in a maximum amount of $6,000 that he can recover in his claim.

Methods of Obtaining Compensation

For parties who express a mutual desire to resolve their dispute outside of the courtroom, they may opt to arrange a settlement conference. Both parties will be afforded the opportunity to present their arguments before a court-appointed attorney, also known as a judge pro tempore. Among those that will be discussed in a settlement conference are the merits of the lawsuit, the financial aspects, the parties’ respective needs, and the amount of damages the plaintiff hopes to recover. In an ideal scenario, the dispute is resolved through a settlement offer that both parties deem satisfactory.

If parties involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit are unable to settle, the next step is to take the claim to civil court. In Arizona, civil lawsuits with damages below certain jurisdictional thresholds are required to go through mandatory arbitration. In this process, an arbitrator appointed by the court will assess the case details and determine the resolution and award. 

If either party disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision, the case will go to trial. All evidence deemed admissible will be presented to a judge or a jury, who will then render a decision.

How Much Does It Cost to Pursue a Medical Malpractice Case in Arizona?

Medical malpractice claims incur significant financial costs, typically ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. Additionally, these claims are associated with considerable time commitments. Among the expenses incurred in filing a claim are research costs, filing fees, expert witness fees, and medical record costs. Most medical malpractice attorneys working with plaintiffs operate on a contingency basis, which means they will not be paid anything unless there are damages recovered. Common contingency fee percentages are between 30 and 40%. 

Note that lawyers’ fees are not limited in any way under the Arizona medical malpractice law. Any party, however, may request that the court review whether a party’s legal fees are within reasonable range. The court must render a decision within 20 days when a party submits a request.

Legal Resources for Medical Malpractice Victims in  Arizona

Mental Health America of Arizona

Serving Arizonians since 1954, Mental Health America of Arizona provides education to the local communities and advocacy for families and individuals affected by mental illnesses and behavioral disorders after suffering medical malpractice. Individuals may call 602-347-1100 for peer support or if they simply need someone to talk to. Free mental health screening is also available.

Community Legal Services

Community Legal Services, which is considered Arizona's largest legal aid group, has been offering pro bono legal services to clients since 1952. This non-profit law organization is committed to offering legal advice, counsel, and advocacy, as well as self-help resources and legal education, with the goal of empowering Arizonians to understand and exercise their rights. CLS spans five counties: Maricopa, La Paz, Yuma, Mohave, and Yavapai.  

State Bar of Arizona

The primary objective of the State Bar of Arizona is to effectively serve and safeguard the interests of the public by delivering legal services and keeping justice accessible. Arizonians may utilize the Association’s resources to locate licensed attorneys who can represent them in their respective cases. They can also lodge complaints against those suspected of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Arizona.

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