The legal term for civil liability when a death is caused by the negligent or intentional act of another is “wrongful death.”
The North Carolina wrongful death statute governs who can file a claim for wrongful death, and the time limits for pursuing a claim.
This time limit is called the statute of limitations. In most cases, the statute of limitations for wrongful death in North Carolina is two years after the person’s death.
Who Initiates a Wrongful Death Action?
Actions for wrongful death in North Carolina are brought by the personal representative of the deceased person; the representative will be either the executor of the person’s will or a legal heir if there is no will. The personal representative is, in essence, pursuing a claim on the deceased person’s behalf, an important detail that can affect time limits. If someone is injured in an auto accident, for example, he would have three years in which to file a personal injury action against the party responsible for the accident. If the injured person dies, however, the action becomes a wrongful death action, and the statute of limitations is two years.
How Long do You Have to Initiate a Wrongful Death Action
There are some cases in which the personal representative may have less than two years to pursue a wrongful death claim. North Carolina law specifies that the action must be brought within the two-year time period for wrongful death actions, and also within the time period for the underlying act which caused the death. In the auto accident case, suppose the accident happened on January 1, 2018. If the person was injured but did not die, he would have to file suit before January 1, 2021. If the person died at the scene of the accident, his personal representative would have to file a wrongful death action within two years of his death, or before January 1, 2020. Suppose, however, that the person did not die immediately, but never fully recovered, and died on March 1, 2019. His personal representative would only have until January 1, 2021, to file suit.
There are some situations where the statute of limitations for the underlying negligent act may be extended. When an injury or death is caused by a defective product, for example, the defect may have not been discovered until well after the product was purchased. If the defect was not discovered until the product caused someone’s death, the two-year time limit for wrongful death would apply, if the product was purchased within the last ten years.
Similar rules apply in medical malpractice cases. The normal statute of limitations for medical malpractice in North Carolina is three years from the date of the injury, but the injury may not have been discovered right away. The three year time period for filing a claim would begin on the date that the injury was discovered. If the person dies from his injuries, his personal representative would have to file suit within two years of the date of death, or within three years of the date, the injury was discovered, whichever is earlier.
Contact Campbell & Associates Law
As these examples illustrate, determining the correct time frame in which to pursue an action for wrongful death can be confusing. Your right to receive compensation will be lost forever if you do not file suit in time. At Campbell & Associates, our attorneys can evaluate your case in a free consultation, and take the necessary steps to preserve your rights before it is too late. Call 704-326-7243 for a free case evaluation.