Wrongful Death Claims throughout North Carolina
The loss of a family member can be incredibly difficult to deal with, particularly if the loss is unexpected – or if there is a sense that the loved one’s death could somehow have been prevented. If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident or incident, you and your family members may be struggling with severe grief and trying to sort through painful questions while trying to carry on with your daily lives.
Financial compensation will never heal the loss, but in cases where negligence, recklessness or unsafe conditions contributed to or caused a fatal injury, family members have the legal right to seek reasonable financial damages from those responsible. Talking to a mature wrongful death attorney can help you understand your rights and options under the law.
What is Wrongful Death?
In North Carolina, wrongful death is caused by a “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.” In the simplest terms, if the victim had survived, they could have filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. Since the defendant’s wrongful act, neglect, or default caused your loved one’s demise, you are bringing the personal injury lawsuit they could not.
Wrongful death claims in North Carolina involve the actual and the proximate cause of death. The former refers to the defendant’s actions or lack of action leading to the victim’s death. The latter requires proving that this action or inaction by the defendant foreseeably resulted in the victim’s demise.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
While motor vehicle accidents are the most common causes of wrongful death, they are far from the only ones.
Other frequent causes of wrongful death include:
- Dangerous drugs
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home negligence
- Premises liability
While assault and manslaughter are crimes, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter. Even if the suspect was not arrested and charged with the crime or was acquitted by a jury, the estate’s personal representative can still file a wrongful death lawsuit. That is because it compensates the deceased’s family for losing their loved one. Money cannot bring back the deceased, but it can provide some justice and ease the financial burden imposed on the family by their loved one’s death.
In a criminal trial, the legal standard of proof for conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil trial, the burden of proof is the less stringent “preponderance of evidence.” That means your lawyer must prove that it is more likely than not the defendant is responsible for your family member’s death.
Statute of Limitations: Limited Time to File Wrongful Death Claims
Under the North Carolina statute of limitations, there are two years from the time of death in which to file a wrongful death claim. Although it may be difficult to consider filing legal action soon after the death of a loved one, in fact, it can be exceptionally important that you get legal representation as quickly as possible. All the evidence to support the wrongful death claim must be obtained and preserved, and witnesses contacted and interviewed as early as possible after the death. With the passage of time, critical evidence is often lost or destroyed, memories fade, and eyewitnesses become harder to find.
At the Rhine Law Firm, P.C. our wrongful death lawyer understands this is a difficult time, and takes on the burden for you. We can deal with all the important legal details for you so you can focus on recovering from the tragedy and sorting out all that needs to be done. We are compassionate, dedicated, and care about the people we represent. You will never feel like you are not important – because you are. You and your family deserve the level of caring and professionalism that we deliver, each and every day.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina?
The sudden death of a loved one is emotionally devastating – but there are often terrible financial consequences as well. A family can be left struggling to make ends meet after the sudden death of a loved one who had provided financial support.
Close family members have the right to seek compensation from the negligent party through filing a wrongful death lawsuit, whether the death was caused by an individual or corporate entity. The claim is filed on behalf of the estate and surviving family members by a personal representative of the victim, most often the executor or administrator of the estate.
For victims who did not have a will in place, a representative will be named by the court. Our wrongful death lawyers are available to discuss all of these important issues with you, and to guide you through every step of the process, with the utmost professionalism and individual care and service. We offer a free initial consultation to assist you, and can meet with you on evenings or weekends if this is more convenient for you.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
Under the NC Wrongful Death Act, certain damages can be recovered by filing a lawsuit against the negligent party(ies). These monetary damages include:
- The cost of care, treatment, and hospitalization prior to the death of the individual.
- Compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the victim.
- Cost of funeral expenses.
- Recovery of the lost income the victim would have provided had he or she continued to live, and other economic losses.
- Compensation for the services, protection, care and assistance the victim provided the family.
- Compensation for the society, guidance, comfort, companionship, and advice the victim provided.
- Punitive damages (those paid to punish the responsible party) if the death was the result of an act of malice, or willful or wanton conduct.
Documents That Can Help Build a Wrongful Death Case
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you need evidence to build a strong case. Documents that can help build a wrongful death case include:
- Death certificate
- Police reports
- Medical reports
- Autopsy reports
- Accident scene photos
- Eyewitness testimony
- Surveillance video
Even though you are grieving your family member’s loss, it is vital that you consult an experienced Wilmington, NC wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. Critical evidence may disappear if you do not have an attorney investigating the case promptly.
How a Wrongful Death Attorney Will Help
Your lawyer will investigate the cause of your family member’s death. They will also determine which parties are liable. For instance, in a fatal car crash, the defendant’s vehicle may have malfunctioned, contributing to the collision. The vehicle’s manufacturer, dealer, or repair facility may prove liable.
The lawyer will identify the insurance companies involved and file claims. Most wrongful death claims are settled. However, your attorney will prepare to take your case to trial if the insurance company fails to agree to a reasonable settlement.
Since a personal representative is necessary to file a wrongful death lawsuit, your attorney may assist in identifying a person eligible to serve in this crucial role. Your lawyer will also identify the beneficiaries of any wrongful death compensation.
Damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit are not considered part of the victim’s estate, even though the estate’s representative must file the lawsuit. If the deceased had outstanding medical bills, up to 50 percent of the estate’s award may go toward paying those expenses.
Any monies recovered go to the surviving spouse and children or other immediate surviving family members. If the deceased was unmarried and had no children, the North Carolina laws of intestate succession apply to the financial distribution. While the estate per se is not the beneficiary, it can seek reimbursement of any funds spent to pursue the lawsuit.
Contributory Negligence in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the few states that is still a contributory negligence jurisdiction. This doctrine says that a person who was injured in any part due to their own negligence may not collect monetary damages from the party accused of causing the accident. The system is designed in favor of insurance companies rather than people with serious injuries.
So, in a wrongful death case, if the victim had any fault in the circumstances resulting in their death, the family may be barred from collecting any compensation. That is why it is crucial to have a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer representing you.
Answering Questions, Finding Fair Solutions
Our wrongful death attorneys are available to answer your questions about how the law relates to your loss and to explain the process of developing and following through with a case. They will listen to your story and give you the time you need to explain your concerns.
With decades of experience with difficult personal injury and wrongful death cases involving car or motorcycle accidents, workplace incidents, assaults, recreational accidents, trucking accidents, bus accidents and other catastrophic events, we understand the importance of exploring cause – and determining liability – in the death of your loved one. We also understand the emotional difficulties involved and can refer you to support resources that may be helpful.
When It Really Matters – Contact Rhine Law Firm, P.C.
For some families, pursuing a wrongful death case is an appropriate course of action. Contact a wrongful death attorney at our firm by calling at to discuss your situation in confidence. Office hours 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Evening and weekend appointments also available.
Ten Leading Causes of Death and Injury – CDC
Mortality Risk – Insurance Information Institute, Inc
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