Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim if a Loved One Was Killed in a Drunk Driving Accident?

Home / FAQ / Drunk Driving Accident FAQ / Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim if a Loved One Was Killed in a Drunk Driving Accident?

Two women and a man mourning at a funeral, looking over a blurred coffin in the foreground with a white bouquet on top.A wrongful death claim is a legal claim that is made when someone dies as the result of someone else’s negligence, legal fault, or criminal act.

Wrongful death claims are not the same as criminal charges. Rather, they are civil claims meant to compensate the victim’s family or dependents.

Victims killed in drunk driving accidents qualify as having a wrongful death, and their families can sue for compensation. In North Carolina, only the victim’s personal representative or the executor named in their will can file a wrongful death claim.

Oftentimes, the victim does not have a personal representative or a will. In these cases, the family can petition the court to appoint a personal representative to file the wrongful death case.

The personal representative is typically the victim’s surviving spouse, parent, or adult child. Most families hire a lawyer to handle the legal proceedings.

Can You Sue on Behalf of a Dead Person?

The process of suing on behalf of a dead person is done through North Carolina’s Wrongful Death Act. This act dictates what can be recovered on behalf of the victim, such as:

  • Medical Expenses – including hospital stays, surgeries, and transportation
  • Pain and Suffering – the victim’s physical and emotional trauma that was endured before death
  • Funeral Expenses
  • Lost Income of the Victim – the income the victim would have received if the accident had not occurred

Medical Expenses

Any treatment the victim received before their death, including transportation to the hospital, will be charged to their estate. While families are not responsible for paying these expenses, medical bills are expensive and would take a large portion, if not all, of the deceased’s estate.

Some families could be left with nothing, especially if assets, such as the family home, were only in the deceased’s name.

Pain and Suffering

The family can also receive financial compensation for any pain the victim experienced from the accident until death.

Some deaths happen instantly while other people experience extreme pain from their injuries, and they may have suffered for a long time before help arrived or if they were trapped somewhere.

Funeral Expenses

According to Funeralocity, the average cost for a funeral in North Carolina is over eight thousand dollars and varies depending on the city, elected services, and service provider.

Drunk driving accidents are unplanned events that can leave families unable to pay for funeral arrangements.

Lost Income of the Victim

The income the deceased would have earned if the accident had not happened is also calculated in a claim for damages. This amount is significant to families who depended on the victim as the household’s primary income source.

Drunk driving accident lawyers use economists as well as vocational and forensic accounting specialists to calculate the victim’s future earnings from the time of the accident until they would have reached retirement age if the accident had never occurred.

The specialists are able to accurately calculate this amount by reviewing the victim’s employment and earning history.

Non-Economic Damages

Family members are owed compensation for the loss of their loved one. Non-economic damages are for the loss of the individual.

Family members have lost the care, protection, and services of the deceased. For example, a child who lost a parent also loses a guide, counselor, and comforter.

A spouse lost a companion, support, and consortium. They have lost their ability to build future memories and will suffer emotionally for the rest of their lives.

When Should a Wrongful Death Claim Be Made?

When someone you love is killed in a drunk driving accident, the shock of the unexpected event may not wear off for quite some time. The last thing many family members think about when this tragedy happens is filing a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there is a deadline for a claim to be made. The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death.

There are some exceptions to this statute, so be sure to discuss your case with a lawyer as soon as possible after the death of your loved one.

For example, the statute of limitations may be suspended for a child whose parent was killed in an accident until that child turns 18 years old.

Also, if someone is unable to handle their own affairs due to a mental impairment or illness, this lack of capacity may prevent a claim from being legally filed.

Who Collects the Money From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

According to the North Carolina Wrongful Death Act, the people who collect the payout from a wrongful death claim are the same as the people entitled to receive an inheritance from the victim if the deceased died without a will.

The total amount awarded for the claim may be divided between family members depending on their family dynamics and circumstances. A lawyer will be able to analyze your situation and discuss how the payout will be distributed.

A legal will cannot dictate who receives proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit as they are always distributed according to intestate succession.

Different states have different intestate succession laws, so the distribution could be different in different cases depending on where the accident occurred.

Where Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed?

The lawsuit for a wrongful death claim is made in the court with jurisdiction over the case. This means the claim must be filed where the death occurred.

How Long Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Take?

The length of time to settle a wrongful death claim can range from a few months to several years. It takes time to gather evidence, and the case must be thoroughly investigated by all parties involved.

It is important to fully understand what happened in the accident and who was to blame before accepting any settlement offers.

Can Creditors Take From the Wrongful Death Proceeds?

The payout from a wrongful death settlement is made to the appropriate family members or other designated beneficiaries.

The money is never made part of the deceased’s estate. Therefore, creditors are not entitled to any of it.

The proceeds are also not taxable.

Contact the Heavy Hitters for a Free Consultation

If your loved one was tragically killed in a drunk driving accident, we are so sorry for your loss, and we are here to help. We will take care of your case and ensure your family receives the best possible outcome.

Call Tatum and Atkinson at (800) LAW-0804 as soon as possible to discuss your options and if your situation qualifies for a wrongful death claim.