Recovering for the negligent death of a loved one in North Carolina

Those that 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 specifically 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 he or she lived. Scenarios where wrongful deaths frequently occur are: fatal car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents or 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, the wrongful death lawsuit may only be filed by the personal representative of the decedent's estate. 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, any damages recovered in the wrongful death lawsuit are first used to reimburse the decedent's estate for the expenses of bringing the lawsuit, then to pay attorneys' fees. Following this, the damages are distributed to the interested parties to cover expenses such as:

• Funeral and burial expenses

• Hospital and medical expenses

• Loss of decedent's income

• Loss of decedent's services, society, companionship, guidance or comfort

In addition to these damages, the court may award punitive damages in certain cases. These damages are not based on any actual loss, but serve to punish the responsible party for his or her wrongful conduct. In general, punitive damages may be awarded if the responsible party's conduct was malicious, willful or wanton.

Under the law, not every relative is eligible to 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 certain cases.

Speak with an attorney

If you have suddenly lost a loved one due to a person's negligence, you can be left with considerable financial losses in addition to your emotional grief. 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 that you receive the maximum compensation possible under law.

Keywords: wrongful death, negligence