For any family, the death of a loved one is a considerable burden to bear. However, when that death was caused by an act of negligence — like a car accident, nursing home neglect or the failure to diagnose a fatal medical condition — the family’s grief is frequently compounded by a sense of tragic injustice.
When fatal accidents happen, North Carolina law allows the victim’s survivors to pursue wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their deceased loved one. Wrongful death claims serve the dual purpose of seeking justice on behalf of the deceased victim and securing compensation for the financial losses that the victim’s death left behind.
Wrongful death damages
North Carolina law specifies the losses for which survivors can seek compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. These losses are called “damages,” and include the following:
- Medical expenses related to the incident that caused the victim’s death
- The victim’s pain and suffering (if he or she did not die instantly)
- Reasonable expenses related to the victim’s funeral
- Loss of the victim’s future income
- Loss of the victim’s services, protection and care
- Loss of the victim’s companionship, comfort, guidance and society
If the circumstances that led to the victim’s death were particularly egregious, the survivors may also seek punitive damages from the person or party responsible for causing the death. Punitive damages are available when a death was caused by malicious, willful or wanton conduct. They are designed not to compensate for actual losses, but to punish the responsible party and deter future similar conduct.
The proceeds of a North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit are distributed in accordance with the state’s intestate succession law, even if the victim died with a valid will in place. Essentially, this means that those closest to the victim will get the biggest share. The most common recipients in wrongful death claims are spouses, children and parents.
Pursuing wrongful death claims
It is important to understand that North Carolina law limits the time survivors have to bring wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their deceased loved ones. In most cases, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the victim’s death.
Because of this strict time limit, it is important to talk with an experienced North Carolina personal injury attorney soon after a fatal accident, even if you are unsure whether your loved one’s death was caused by an act of negligence. The attorney will be able to review your case and advise you about your rights and options for moving forward.