Any loss of life is dreadful and devastating to the surviving family, but wrongful death is specifically the loss of a loved one in an accident that was caused by someone's negligence. In North Carolina, the statute defines it as a death caused by the "wrongful act, neglect, or default of another."
If you've lost a family member in an accident, you're probably feeling grief, and maybe fear. Perhaps you relied on this person as a financial provider. While nothing can bring your loved one back, there are ways to recover financial damages for wrongful death — but it's a little different from a regular personal injury lawsuit.
A person who's deceased can't file a lawsuit. So, another person has to do so on their behalf.
If the person died from a criminal action, that would be handled separately in criminal court. You cannot charge someone with a crime — that must be handled by a prosecutor. If a person is found guilty of a crime, they're punished by imprisonment or other penalties.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. If you win a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, you recover financial damages (i.e. money).
A wrongful death claim can be filed by the executor of the deceased person's estate or by an administrator (if they didn't leave a will). The person who files the claim is a "personal representative" of the deceased and acts instead of beneficiaries, heirs, legatees, or survivors.
Often, the personal representative is a spouse, parent, or child of the deceased.
The basis for a wrongful death claim is the same as any other personal injury lawsuit. It must include these 5 elements to establish negligence:
In a wrongful death claim, there's the additional element of proving that you're a legal beneficiary who is entitled to share the recovery.
There are a couple of important legal concepts to a North Carolina wrongful death claim:
Every state in the U.S. follows 1 of 4 fault systems. These rules determine how much (or if) you can recover damages for a negligence claim.
In some states, even if the injured person had some liability for the accident, they can still recover damages, but the amount is reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff's fault. For example, in a car accident case where the defendant was at fault but the plaintiff could've acted differently in a way that would have avoided the collision, the court would evaluate what percent was the plaintiff's fault. If the plaintiff was found to be 10% liable, their damage award would be reduced by 10%.
But that's not how it works in the Tarheel State.
You may claim these expenses as damages in a wrongful death lawsuit:
When the court awards damages in a North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit, the money is distributed according to the North Carolina Intestate Succession Act. This act governs how an estate is distributed if a person dies without a will. Therefore, even if the deceased did have a will, the damages would be distributed separately from assets covered in the will.
If the deceased person died at work, the survivors might be able to claim damages through the workers' compensation system. A deceased worker's dependents can receive death benefits, along with funeral and burial costs.
Survivor benefits are two-thirds of the workers' average weekly wage for up to 500 weeks. They are provided to a person who is wholly dependent on the deceased worker, including a spouse or minor child. If there are no dependents, the benefit is paid to the next of kin as a lump sum payment.
In North Carolina, workers' compensation covers up to $10,000 of a deceased worker's funeral and burial costs.
A wrongful death lawsuit is usually quite complicated. Fortunately, you don't have to navigate the legal maze on your own.
The right lawyer will:
As in any personal injury lawsuit, the liable person or entity in a wrongful death action is going to try hard to mount a defense. In a wrongful death claim, the defense might be even more strenuous because there's often a large amount of money involved. Especially if the defendant tries to claim that the person contributed some liability in their own accidental death, your lawyer will need to prove that's not true in order for you to recover damages in North Carolina.
You can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a North Carolina wrongful death lawyer who can help manage every aspect of your claim.