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A Brief Overview of Wrongful Death Cases in North Carolina


October 22, 2019

NORTH CAROLINA – If a person is injured due to the negligence, fault or wrongful act or omission of another, that person may be able to bring a claim for their damages, including medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages, depending on the facts, circumstances and law involved.   If that same person had a legally viable claim but then perished as a result of the sustained injuries caused from the negligent act, fault, wrongful act, or omission of another, a wrongful death claim may exist for the deceased's legal beneficiaries or under the deceased's estate.   A skilled attorney can determine whether this claim exists, who can bring the claim, and how long you have under North Carolina law to bring the claim or file a lawsuit.  Do not delay in learning your rights!  It is important to remember that time deadlines apply to all legal claims.  Failure to bring the required action in a timely fashion can result in the loss of your rights, so it is best to speak to an attorney as soon as possible to ensure you do not lose any rights.

While no amount of compensation can come close to right the wrong of a person’s death, it can offer a surviving family financial security that represents the loss of what the deceased would have been able to provide during his or her life. This often includes the loss of income from all sources. This is often determined by a multitude of factors that are complex.  Considerations for what this lost income may be can involve considering the decedent's life as a whole - did the person live a healthy life with a long life expectancy prior to the incident?  How much training and earning capacity did the person have?  The person's life will be looked into often in great depth to figure out how to calculate lost and future income.

Under North Carolina law, only the persons who are designated as the deceased’s "personal representative" (usually a close family member as determined by the state's intestate laws) can bring a wrongful death case as the moving party or also known as, the plaintiff.  If the deceased had a will, the personal representative is the executor of the estate named in the will.  If there was no will, the person who qualifies as the administrator of the deceased’s estate under North Carolina’s intestate succession laws is the personal representative.  If the executor or administrator is not willing to serve as a personal representative, the court can appoint a public administrator.

The tragic death of a person can also involve criminal charges against the wrongful party. A wrongful death case is a civil matter.  Civil and criminal cases may exist at the same time.

What Damages May Be Recoverable in a North Carolina Wrongful Death Action?

“Damages” defines the legal term used to describe the monetary compensation that a plaintiff can receive in a wrongful death or personal injury claim.  

In a North Carolina wrongful death civil case, the following damages may be awarded (list is not exhaustive):

  • Burial and funeral expenses.
  • Medical bills, emergency room expenses, ambulance services, related to the accident 
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Lost wages and income of the decedent 
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, protection, services, care, guidance, comfort and companionship
  • Loss of the value of tasks the decedent performed, such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare services rendered.

Punitive Damages may also be awarded if it can be proved that the defendant's action were willful, fraudulent, wanton, or malicious. In other words, consciously disregarding human life, for example by driving drunk or leaving the scene of the incident, may justify an award or settlement inclusive of punitive damages.  The purpose of punitive damages in wrongful death cases is to punish the defendant for their reckless and willful misconduct.

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Category: Wrongful Death

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.