North Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit FAQ
Recently in North Carolina, two pedestrians died after an allegedly drunk driver struck them with his SUV. North Carolina law enforcement has charged the man with one count of driving while impaired and two counts of felony death by a motor vehicle. The victims died from their injuries at the scene of the car accident. After the driver hit the two men with his SUV, he continued driving until he ran into a ditch. This case is just one example of the many preventable accidents that cause the death of innocent North Carolina residents. When a person's negligence or recklessness causes another person's death, the victim’s surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation.What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, surviving family members of a victim killed by another person’s negligence file a legal claim for compensation. The plaintiff will need to prove that the defendant’s intentional actions or negligence caused the accident that resulted in his or her loved one's death. Successful wrongful death plaintiffs are entitled to monetary damages from the defendant.What Elements Must the Plaintiff Prove to Succeed?
As with any other personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit will need to submit evidence proving certain elements in his or her case. The plaintiff must prove the following elements in North Carolina wrongful death lawsuits:
- The defendant owed the deceased individual a duty to act reasonably under the circumstances
- The defendant breached his or her duty to the deceased individual through his or her actions or inaction
- The breach of duty caused the accident that resulted in the deceased individual’s death
North Carolina restricts who can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved one. The following people have a legal right to bring a wrongful death claim:
- The decedent’s spouse
- The decedent’s children
- The decedent’s beneficiaries
- The decedent’s legal dependents
- If the deceased victim had a will then the administrator of the will may also have the option of filing a wrongful death suit
Any person who believes that he or she is a beneficiary of the decedent's estate can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In most cases, the decedent's spouse or children are the ones who choose to bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit in North Carolina. However, suppose you are a friend of the decedent who will also inherit property or assets from the decedent's will. In that case, you may have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your friend.What Type of Compensation is Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Successful wrongful death plaintiffs can recover the following types of damages in North Carolina:
- The medical expenses associated with their loved one's death, including any ambulance costs and emergency medical service costs
- Funeral expenses
- The loss of the victim's anticipated future earnings from the date of his or her death to the average age of retirement. These benefits include pensions and health care benefits.
- The loss of protection, care, and companionship to surviving family members
- The pain and suffering the deceased endured before his or her death
- Punitive damages, in some cases
Punitive damages are not available in every wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, North Carolina Courts only award punitive damages to punish the defendant for egregious behavior. Courts impose punitive damage when the defendant’s intentional or malicious acts caused the defendant’s death. For example, judges may instruct a jury to impose punitive damages in drunk driving cases. When a driver is extremely intoxicated and chooses to drive anyway, judges will attempt to punish the defendant and warn other drivers against that type of dangerous behavior.How Do Courts Determine Future Damages?
When families meet with us to discuss wrongful death cases, they often ask us how we will determine their future damages. We look at life expectancy tables when we calculate the future losses our clients will suffer because of the death of their loved ones. Many times, we will take the deceased individual’s income at the time and calculate how many years that he/she would be expected to work before retirement. We also carefully include all of the work-based benefits the surviving family would have been entitled to, such as health insurance and retirement account investments.Contact a Charlotte Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you have lost a loved one in a preventable accident, you may be entitled to benefits through a wrongful death lawsuit. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at 704-370-2828 to schedule your free initial consultation.