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Mourning a loved one often involves grappling with difficult questions. For families who lose loved ones due to someone’s neglect or wrongful action, additional questions can complicate the grieving process. Should I sue the person responsible for my loved one’s death?

How long does a wrongful death lawsuit take? How can any money hope to make up for the loss of my spouse, parent, or child?

In this blog post, we’ll explain the process involved in wrongful death lawsuits in North Carolina. We’ll also discuss settlement negotiation and the recovery available in wrongful death cases. 

What Happens in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Legally, a wrongful death lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim. When a person or institution’s neglect has a hand in someone’s death, that person or entity can be held responsible for their actions (or inaction) under North Carolina law

In personal injury claims, the person harmed by another’s negligence usually takes action to get compensation. However, that’s not possible in wrongful death cases. Instead, a deceased’s personal representative will contact an attorney and file a lawsuit. Often, a deceased individual has a personal representative for their estate named in their will. If not, a court can choose a personal representative to serve as the plaintiff in legal proceedings.

The personal representative will gather evidence to support their claim with the help of an attorney. The deceased’s lawyer will contact the responsible party and any insurance companies involved. Sometimes, your attorney can negotiate a settlement without going to court. For the family of the deceased, settlement can offer a faster and more appealing route to healing than extended litigation. 

However, the case will likely go to trial if the responsible party and insurance company won’t agree to a fair compensation amount. Your lawyer will present evidence and argue your case in court. Then, a judge or jury will decide whether the defendant is responsible and how much compensation they owe.

How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take to Settle in North Carolina?

The length of a wrongful death lawsuit can vary depending on the circumstances. Some cases may be settled in a few months, while others could take years. 

Let’s walk through some of the main factors that impact the length of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Evidence of Fault

Demonstrating fault is essential in any wrongful death case. For someone to be liable for wrongful death, you must have evidence that their negligent actions caused the deceased to lose their life. However, proving negligence can be more complicated in wrongful death cases because the injured person—e.g., the deceased—can’t testify.

It may take time for your attorney to collect evidence to make a compelling case that the other party is at fault. The collection process can include requesting records, gathering physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and consulting with experts.

Insurance Negotiations

Wrongful death settlements often involve lengthy negotiations with insurance companies. Even if the responsible party admits to fault, an insurer may dispute the validity of your claim or the amount of adequate compensation. An insurance company often contacts the victim’s family with a settlement offer.

However, this initial offer is usually far lower than the claim is worth. Justifying a higher and more accurate settlement amount can take time as your attorney gathers additional evidence and discusses terms with the insurer. 

Calculating Damages

Disputes over the amount of compensation owed can also draw out settlement negotiations. Damages in wrongful death settlements can take into account intangible losses arising from the death of a loved one, such as pain and suffering and loss of moral support. Calculating these damages can be complex and often depends on subjective factors. 

Due to this combination of factors, wrongful death lawsuits can take longer to settle than other personal injury lawsuits. An attorney with experience representing plaintiffs in wrongful death scenarios is the best person to estimate the potential length of your case. 

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

Wrongful death settlements aim to compensate for some of the economic and noneconomic costs of losing a loved one due to another’s neglect. 

A wrongful death settlement payment can be a lump sum deposited after the agreement is made official or broken into incremental amounts paid out gradually. 

Some of the losses a settlement payment may cover include:

  • Medical expenses—any hospital or pharmaceutical bills related to the incident that caused the victim’s death, including emergency care, surgery, at-home care, or medical equipment;
  • Lost income—if the deceased had financial dependants, damages can take into account the lost salary and earning potential they’d have relied upon;   
  • Funeral expenses—compensation for the financial cost of the funeral, burial, or cremation; and
  • Loss of companionship and support—damages reflecting the intangible value of the deceased’s emotional bonds and guidance for surviving family members.

Although a personal representative files the lawsuit on the victim’s behalf, the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased usually receive the compensation. North Carolina law has specific rules governing who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Succession laws are complex and cover many different situations. It’s best to consult a qualified attorney to understand the distribution of a potential settlement in your case. 

Legal Advocates with Compassion and Experience

When you’re grappling with the loss of someone you love, even everyday tasks can seem exhausting. At Mehta & McConnell, PLLC, we understand that seeking accountability for your loved one can feel overwhelming and even impossible.

We know that behind questions like “How long does a wrongful death lawsuit take?” is the profound grief that may doubt the point of anything that can’t return your loved one to you.

No legal penalty or amount of compensation can indeed come close to recovering the loss of a life. However, with the guidance of our skilled and compassionate advocates, your family may be able to find justice. 

The team of legal professionals at Mehta & McConnell, PLLC, has over 30 combined years of experience helping grieving families take the first step toward legal recovery after a wrongful death.

Our attorneys are seasoned litigators and negotiators with a wealth of insights into the insurance industry and the North Carolina legal landscape. If you have questions, contact our office online or by phone today. Your first consultation is always free.

Author Photo

Viral Mehta

Viral Mehta is the managing attorney of Mehta & McConnell Injury Lawyers, a Charlotte, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation law firm. He enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, sports, and reading.

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