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Families of Arizona Hotshots file wrongful suit

With a one-year deadline looming, survivors of 12 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died on June 30, 2013, filed a wrongful death suit. The incident that led to the deaths of 19 individuals sparked due to a lightning strike, resulting in a small fire near Yarnell on June 28 of that year. The suit alleges that early efforts to manage the incident failed, resulting in the spread of the fire. The survivors further allege that the safety of those fighting the fire took less priority than the protection of structures and pastures. The Hotshots were reportedly left in a downwind position as the wind-driven fire progressed rapidly.

An attorney speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs indicates that there was an effort to work out an agreement to permit a longer time frame for resolving the issue. However, the state's decline of a potential tolling agreement resulted in a need to file suit before the statute of limitations expired. The attorney notes that a top priority for the survivors is the need to determine what happened and how to prevent a recurrence for others.

The complaint seeks damages for factors such as loss of companionship, love and care. It also lists pain, sorrow, mental suffering, lost income and funeral expenses in addition to legal costs. A specific sum is not mentioned, however. The suit has named defendants including the state, the state's forestry division, the county and its fire district. The city of Prescott was excluded from the claim.

Because Arizona requires that a notice of claim be filed within six months of an incident and that a suit be brought within one year, decisions about wrongful death action must be made quickly in order to preserve the options. Although it was not successful in this case, an attorney may seek a tolling agreement to provide additional time for negotiating or settling a matter.

Source: Verde Independent, "12 Hotshot families file wrongful death lawsuit", Cindy Barks, June 28, 2014

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