Those who have lost a loved one to negligent acts in North Carolina may be able to recover financial compensation for their loss by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you lose a spouse, child, parent, or close relative because of the actions of a negligent party, you may think that since your loved one has died, you have no legal recourse. Fortunately, in North Carolina, this is incorrect, as the legislature has expressly permitted certain close relatives to recover compensation in such situations by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Basics of Lawsuit
Under North Carolina law, a wrongful death occurs when a person is killed by a “wrongful act, neglect or default of another.” In other words, a wrongful death occurs any time a death occurs because of the negligent, careless, or wrongful act of an individual or corporation where the decedent would be able to recover compensation for his injuries from the responsible party had they lived. Scenarios where wrongful deaths frequently occur are fatal car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, and dangerous property conditions.
Although the party responsible for the decedent’s death may face criminal charges for their role in the decedent’s death, North Carolina’s statute permits a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed in addition to these charges. As a result, the responsible party may face both criminal and civil penalties (i.e., payment of monetary damages). However, since the proceedings are separate, the verdict in one does not necessarily affect the other.
Parties to Lawsuit
In North Carolina, the deceased’s relatives may not sue the responsible party directly. Instead, a representative of the decedent’s estate must file a wrongful death lawsuit. This person is either named in the decedent’s will or appointed by the court if the decedent did not have a will or did not specify a person to act in this capacity. The personal representative files the lawsuit on behalf of all interested parties.
Recovery of Damages
Under North Carolina law, damages recovered in a negligent death lawsuit reimburse the decedent’s estate for legal costs. The damages will cover the costs of bringing the suit and paying attorneys’ fees. Following this, the law requires a settlement to distribute funds to cover expenses such as:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Hospital and medical expenses
- Loss of decedent’s income
- Loss of a decedent’s services, society, companionship, guidance or comfort
In addition to these damages, the court may sometimes award punitive damages. These damages are not based on actual loss but serve to punish the responsible party for wrongful conduct. In rare cases, a judge may award punitive damages for malicious, willful, or wanton conduct.
Under the law, not every relative can recover damages for wrongful death. The damages are distributed in the same proportionate shares to the persons that would inherit if the decedent had died without a will. In general, this means recovery is limited to the spouse and children of the decedent. However, depending on the circumstances, the siblings (and their descendants), parents, and grandparents may be eligible to recover in some instances.
Representation for the Negligent Death of a Loved One
The loss of a loved one leaves not only emotional grief, but often, considerable financial loss. Although a wrongful death lawsuit cannot erase what has happened, it can provide the security to move ahead in life. An experienced personal injury attorney can listen to your situation and ensure you receive the maximum compensation under the law.
Maginnis Howard’s negligent death attorneys offer free consultations and you only pay when we win your case. We have three conveniently located offices across the state in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Fayetteville. To speak with an intake specialist, visit our contact page for further information.