Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in North Carolina?

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A client asking a lawyer about details of a wrongful death case and pointing at a specific line in a law book.Understanding your legal rights after losing a family member in an accident is important. Contacting a lawyer after the death of a loved one may be the furthest thing from your mind while you are dealing with shock and devastation, but it is in your family’s best interest.

No amount of money or legal action is going to make up for your loss, but a wrongful death claim can help you and your family recover the compensation that you are legally entitled to receive after your tragic loss.

North Carolina law is specific about who may sue for wrongful death and how the monetary compensation will be distributed after being awarded.

Can a Family Sue for Wrongful Death?

Individual family members are not permitted to directly file wrongful death claims, according to North Carolina law. The victim’s personal representative is the only one eligible to file the lawsuit, and the claim would be filed on behalf of the victim’s estate.

The personal representative is typically named in the victim’s will.

If the victim did not appoint a personal representative before their death, the family can request that the court appoint someone so that they may file the wrongful death claim. A personal representative is usually a close family member or a lawyer who is responsible for making sure the deceased’s wishes stated in their will are carried out.

It is important for families to understand that although the personal representative is the only one who may file the claim, that individual is not automatically entitled to receive a full share of the compensation. Wrongful death compensation does not pass through an estate but is distributed to the victim’s heirs.

So, the personal representative will file the claim for compensation on behalf of the victim’s estate. However, the amount awarded either by a judge, jury, or settlement is not considered an asset of the estate.

Therefore, this compensation is protected from creditors and is tax-free. The personal representative may be eligible to receive a share of the compensation if they are one of the victim’s heirs, but the amount is not related to their role in filing the wrongful death claim.

Who Receives the Money From the Wrongful Death Claim?

North Carolina law dictates who receives money from a wrongful death claim. This law overrules any will or estate plan that the victim had put into place before they died.

North Carolina’s wrongful death law is the only dictator of how the wrongful death compensation will be distributed.

According to North Carolina General Statutes § 29-14, compensation from a wrongful death claim will be distributed in the following order:

  • The surviving spouse
  • The child or children of the deceased
  • The deceased’s grandchild or grandchildren
  • The surviving parent or parents
  • A sibling or siblings of the deceased

The amount each family member receives is dependent upon who else is entitled to receive a portion of the compensation. Also, not all family members are eligible to receive compensation in all cases.

Special rules and exceptions apply in different circumstances, so the distribution of wrongful death compensation can be very complicated. A wrongful death attorney will be able to determine how North Carolina’s laws apply to your specific case and how the compensation will be distributed.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

North Carolina has a statute of limitations in place for wrongful death claims. Under North Carolina’s General Statutes § 1-53(4), wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the date of death of the victim.

However, a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be filed if the claim surpasses the amount of time allowed by another statute of limitations if the deceased had survived. For example, if your family member survived for several months after the initial incident that caused their injury, the claim for damages would fall under the statute of limitations for a personal injury.

According to the personal injury statute of limitations, you would have three years from the date of the injury to file a claim for compensation. If you do not file within those three years, you will be ineligible from seeking any compensation for damages, even if you file within two years of your family member’s death.

Wrongful Death Claims

When someone dies due to the negligence of someone else, a representative may file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against the defendant at fault for the accident. The claim must be filed within two years of the victim’s death, which may differ from the date of the accident.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

According to North Carolina Law, a wrongful death occurs when a death is caused by neglect, a wrongful act, or default of someone else. Therefore, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against the party whose negligent or intentional actions caused the crash that claimed the victim’s life.

What Types of Damages Can Be Claimed In a Wrongful Death Case?

The deceased victim’s family is the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. If successful, the court will order the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s claimed damages.

The determination of the value of the award for damages potentially includes the following factors:

  • Funeral Expenses
  • Transportation Of the Deceased
  • Burial or Cremation Expenses
  • Medical Bills For the Deceased As a Result of the Accident
  • Lost Wages the Victim Would Have Earned Had They Lived
  • Pain and Suffering of the Deceased
  • A Reasonable Value For Non-Economic Damages

Funeral Expenses

The average cost for a funeral in North Carolina is just over $8,000 and varies depending on the city, elected services, and service provider. Wrongful deaths are unplanned events that can leave families unable to pay for funeral arrangements.

Transportation of the Deceased

Not all wrongful death victims die close to home. The cost to bring them home varies wildly depending upon the following criteria:

  • Distance They Must Travel
  • Fees for Shipping Arrangements
  • Method of Transportation
  • Weight of the Deceased

Burial or Cremation Expenses

Direct burials without the cost of a funeral range between around $1,200 – $1,600. Cremation is approximately just under $1,000. The cost for each method fluctuates depending on location and the type of coffin or urn chosen.

Medical Bills for the Deceased As a Result of the Accident

Wrongful death accidents are often horrific, especially when high speeds or falls are involved. With the advancements in safety features in vehicles today, many people survive the initial crash.

Unfortunately, some still succumb to injuries and die in the hospital. Any treatment they 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 were only in the deceased’s name.

Lost Wages the Victim Would Have Earned Had They Lived

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 depend on the victim as the household’s primary income source.

Pain and Suffering of the Deceased

The family can also receive financial compensation for any pain the victim experienced from the accident until death. Some deaths happen instantly, while other victims experience extreme pain from their injuries, and they may have suffered for a long time before help arrived or if they were trapped somewhere.

A Reasonable Value for 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.

For example, a child who lost a parent also loses a guide, counselor, and comforter, and a spouse is losing a companion, support, and consortium. They are losing future memories and will suffer emotionally for the rest of their lives.

Work With a North Carolina Wrongful Death Law Firm Today

The death of a loved one is a devastating tragedy, and the shock of an unexpected loss caused by the negligence of someone is even worse. Your family may be left with significant financial burdens as well.

Contact an experienced wrongful death attorney at Tatum and Atkinson: The Heavy Hitters to see if your family is entitled to receive compensation for the death of your relative. You may be eligible to pursue a full recovery from your financial losses as well as for the loss of your loved one.

Call (800) LAW-0804 for a free consultation.