What is Wrongful Death in North Carolina?
Wrongful death in North Carolina is any death caused by the wrongdoing, carelessness or recklessness of another person. These tragedies are commonly seen in auto accidents, medical malpractice cases and cases that involve defective products.
A wrongful death lawsuit is essentially a personal injury claim that the deceased could have filed if they had survived the accident. Instead, it is the family who fights for justice.
The courts recognize that it is impossible to replace a human life. However, a wrongful death lawsuit can help loved ones maintain the same financial position they had before the death. It can also help with funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering and provide money to finance surviving children’s educations.
Why File A Wrongful Death Claim?
Families who come to Stewart Law Offices often wonder whether filing a wrongful death claim can provide closure for them. We won’t presume to answer such a personal question, at least from an emotional point of view. But from our experience, family members do feel a sense of relief when a wrongful death claim ends with a positive outcome. Worrying about how to make ends meet and cope with grief is a terrible burden — and our skilled lawyers want to provide some reassurance by lessening your financial worries.
Statute Of Limitations On Wrongful Death In N.C.
The laws surrounding the statute of limitations in North Carolina wrongful death cases are time-sensitive and can be complex.
- The most basic rule first: If the deceased died at the scene of the accident, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the death.
- Deaths that occur years later are different: If the loved one died from their injuries more than two years after his/her accident, a wrongful death claim must be filed within one year from the date of the death and within seven years from the date of the accident. In other words, you cannot receive compensation if the accident occurred more than seven years ago.
- Certain exceptions exist: The time limit is extended for a minor child who is eligible for compensation until after the child turns 18. Another exception is when the person who would bring the lawsuit is mentally incapacitated and cannot handle their own affairs. In these cases, the statute of limitations is tolled until the person is healthy or has regained mental capacity.
Because the deadlines for filing a wrongful death claim can be confusing, contacting a North Carolina wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible is essential to ensure that you don’t miss out on compensation simply because the clock runs out.
How To Sue For Wrongful Death
There are several elements that you must prove when filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
You must satisfy these four prongs of negligence:
- The at-fault party owed the deceased a duty of care. You must show that the at-fault party was directly responsible for the person’s death. For example, drivers on the road have to duty to drive responsibly.
- The defendant breached that duty. This element requires you to show that the defendant acted wrongfully, leading to the deceased’s death. A drunk driver breaches the duty to drive safely.
- The breach was the proximate cause of death. That means the defendant’s actions directly resulted in the injuries that killed the plaintiff. A drunk driver who swerves over the center lane and causes a head-on collision is very likely the proximate cause of the deceased’s death.
- The defendant owes you damages for the loss. You must prove that the defendant’s recklessness caused you harm. This can be both financial harm in the form of economic losses (e.g., lost income, property damage, etc.) and non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering).
Although the example of the drunk driver seems simple enough, proving a wrongful death case is not always easy. For example, if an accident involves multiple vehicles, it can be more challenging to identify a fault and prove negligence.
N.C. Wrongful Death Settlements
Loved ones often wonder how much they will receive from a wrongful death settlement in North Carolina. Unfortunately, it is impossible for anyone to put a dollar value on a claim before the facts have been examined closely.
However, it is possible to put an estimated value on a case by assessing the losses that a family has incurred as a result of the death. Even then, you must understand that there is no guarantee that you will receive the estimated value that an attorney places on your case. No lawyer should ever promise you a certain outcome.
Potential damages that can be collected in a North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of services, protection, care and assistance (e.g., cooking, cleaning and other household duties)
- Loss of society, companionship, comfort and guidance of the deceased (e.g., compensation for grief)
- Punitive damages for especially reckless conduct (capped at $250,000 or three times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater)
Most wrongful death cases settle out of court. Stewart Law Offices always pushes for a settlement first. There are several reasons why:
- Trials are costly. The more complex the case, the more legal legwork may be required to fight the defendant’s opposing counsel.
- Trials are risky. A settlement is guaranteed compensation. In a trial, your outcome will be up to a judge or jury’s decision.
- Trials are more time-consuming. Busy court dockets and extra preparation push out the timeline for the resolution of your case.
With all of that said, sometimes a trial is the only way for wrongful death victims to obtain a full and fair outcome. If our lawyers believe that going to trial is your best chance for compensation, we’ll advise you honestly about the pros and cons. Keep in mind that we work for you — the ultimate decision will always be in your hands.
When to Hire a Lawyer
Speaking to a lawyer probably doesn’t rank high on the list of things that you want to do following a loved one’s death. But it’s important to remember that there are time limits on when you can file a claim.
You need to contact a wrongful death attorney before the North Carolina statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits expires. Our dedicated lawyers can begin the process of filing a claim if you are eligible, which protects your rights during this sad time.
It’s also critical to speak to an attorney as soon as possible following the death because there are many steps that need to be taken before a claim can be filed. We’ll need to conduct a detailed investigation to determine which party and what action caused the death. Proving these elements can not only be challenging, but they take time to do right.
You don’t need to contact a wrongful death lawyer the day after the death, but you should do so before making any statements to an insurance company.
Once you have an attorney, you can drop all communications with insurance companies involved in your claim. We’ll handle it for you. Now is not the time for you to listen to pushback from adjusters who sound sympathetic, but are really looking for ways to deny you money.
If you’ve lost someone in a North Carolina accident, contact us
today to arrange a free consultation.