Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in North Carolina
When an accident results in physical injuries as a result of someone’s negligence, the victim can pursue a personal injury case in order to recover medical expenses, lost income and other damages. However, if a victim dies from injuries, they are still entitled to a form of financial justice.
The basic purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to put the legal beneficiaries of the deceased person in the same position financially that they would have been had the victim not died. Under North Carolina law, a wrongful death claim is defined as a death caused by a wrongful act, neglect or fault of another.
And although a human life can never be replaced, a wrongful death lawsuit can provide financial security and closure for survivors.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, the attorneys at Campbell & Associates can help you determine whether your case may be filed as a wrongful death action. Call 704-333-0885 or schedule a free consultation today.
How to Establish a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
It should be noted that although criminal charges may be filed against a defendant for illegal behaviors like drinking and driving, criminal proceedings are not designed to bring about financial compensation in a wrongful death case.
Instead, civil cases can be filed in addition to an ongoing criminal case, and a judgement may deliver penalties such as jail time to the at-fault parties.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim?
North Carolina law dictates that a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate must file the claim in court. The claim may seek damages on behalf of both the estate and the surviving family members.
If the deceased person had a will, he or she may have named a personal representative or “executor.” Without a will, the court will appoint another individual—typically surviving spouses, parents or adult children—under the North Carolina intestate succession laws (laws that govern who receives funds from a deceased person’s estate in the absence of a will).
What is Needed to Prove a Case?
Wrongful death cases typically must prove three things to effectively pursue their claim:
- Prove that the defendant was directly responsible for the victim’s death. This is called the “cause in fact” of the victim’s death.
- Prove that the victim’s injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions, which should make the defendant liable. This is called “proximate cause” or “legal cause.”
- Prove that there were recoverable damages. Treatment care expenses, funeral and burial expenses, the decedent’s net income, compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering, and loss of the decedent’s services, protection, companionship, and guidance are considered recoverable under specific circumstances.
Are Punitive Damages Allowed in a Wrongful Death Claim?
If the plaintiff can prove clear and convincing proof of the defendant’s malice, willful conduct, or wanton conduct, courts may also assign punitive damages in addition to the damages listed above. In North Carolina, an award of punitive damages is capped at three times compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.
Who Is Considered Beneficiaries?
After burial expenses and reasonable medical expenses have been paid, the balance is distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act, as if the victim died without a will (even if he or she did, in fact, have a will). This means that only certain persons may receive any funds from the lawsuit.
Campbell & Associates Lawyers Can Help You Take the Next Steps
Because North Carolina’s statute of limitations dictates that a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the victim’s death, it’s important to act quickly. Contact our experienced attorneys if you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence and allow us to guide your next steps in pursuing justice.
We offer free initial consultations for all wrongful death cases, so call our offices at 704-333-0885 or fill out our easy online contact form and we’ll return your message right away.