If you have lost a loved one because of the actions of another person, you may have a claim for compensation.
A wrongful death occurs when one person’s wrongful act, neglect, or default results in the death of another.
North Carolina law requires the personal representative of a decedent’s estate to file a wrongful death claim. If the decedent had an estate plan, he or she may have already selected a personal representative. Otherwise, the court will appoint a personal representative.
If you have questions about how to pursue a wrongful death claim, a wrongful death attorney in Charlotte, NC, may be able to help. Contact the wrongful death lawyers at Mehta & McConnell, PLLC, today to see how we can assist you.
What Accidents Commonly Result in Wrongful Deaths?
Wrongful deaths can occur in almost any scenario. One of the most common causes of wrongful death in North Carolina is motor vehicle accidents.
In 2019 alone, 1,369 people died on North Carolina roadways. Other situations that frequently result in wrongful deaths include:
- Motorcycle accidents,
- Semi-truck accidents,
- Medical malpractice,
- Nursing home neglect, and
- Workplace accidents.
If your loved one died in an accident that was the result of someone else’s wrongful or negligent actions, you may have a claim for financial compensation.
Talk to a North Carolina wrongful death attorney at Mehta & McConnell about your options for filing a wrongful death claim.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
Most wrongful death claims are based on negligence. To demonstrate negligence, you must be able to prove each of the following elements:
- Causation, and
To win your case, you must be able to prove all four of these elements.
The first element you must prove is the existence of a legal “duty.” You must be able to show that the other party owed your loved one a duty of care to act in a reasonably prudent manner.
Next, you must prove that the other party breached their duty. This means you must show that a reasonably prudent person would not have taken the actions that the other party took. Examples of a breach of duty in a wrongful death case include:
- A person driving over the posted speed limit;
- A person driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- A business owner failing to ensure no hazardous conditions exist in their store;
- A manufacturer failing to properly design a product; or
- A doctor failing to take correct action during a medical procedure.
There is no wrongful death claim if the other party did not breach their duty of care. Thus, it is critical to have evidence of a breach.
Proving a breach by the opposing party can be tricky. A North Carolina wrongful death attorney can help you determine whether a breach exists and find the evidence you need to prove it.
Once you have shown that the opposing party owed a duty of care to your loved one and subsequently breached that duty, you must prove causation.
This means you must show that the opposing party actually caused the death of your loved one. You can prove causation by showing that your loved one’s death would not have occurred if the opposing party had not breached his or her duty.
Causation can be difficult to prove and hard to understand. A wrongful death attorney in Charlotte, NC, can help establish the link between the opposing party’s breach and your loved one’s death.
Lastly, you must be able to prove you suffered actual damages as a result of the wrongful death. In a wrongful death suit, this usually includes demonstrating the losses incurred by the decedent’s family after the death occurred.
Examples of damages in a wrongful death claim include:
- Lost earning capacity of the deceased;
- Loss of inheritance;
- Loss of companionship, love, and support of the deceased;
- Lost income or benefits of the deceased; and
- Pain and suffering by loved ones as a result of the death.
The unexpected loss of a loved one is likely to take a financial and emotional toll on a family. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you recover compensation while you focus on emotional healing.
Parties accused of causing a wrongful death have the opportunity to defend themselves. A party might argue that your loved one’s death was not a foreseeable result of their breach.
Another way a party might defend themselves is with the theory of contributory negligence.
North Carolina allows a party to plead contributory negligence in wrongful death cases to defeat liability. Contributory negligence is a legal theory that prevents recovery where the decedent’s own negligence contributes to his or her death.
For example, if your loved one was riding a bicycle without a helmet at night and was struck and killed by a negligent driver, your loved one may be considered contributorily negligent for not wearing a helmet.
Who Can Recover in a Wrongful Death Action?
Even where you bring a successful wrongful death claim, this does not necessarily mean that you specifically will benefit from doing so. This is because only certain people may benefit from a wrongful death action.
The North Carolina intestate succession laws dictate the distribution of the funds.
- When a decedent is survived only by a spouse, the spouse is awarded the entire recovery amount;
- If the decedent is survived by a spouse, no descendants, and one or both parents, the surviving spouse is entitled to $50,000. The remaining funds are divided equally between the spouse and the surviving parent or parents;
- When a decedent is survived by a spouse and one descendant, the spouse is entitled to the first $30,000. The remainder is divided equally between the spouse and the descendant;
- If the descendant is survived by a spouse and two or more descendants, the spouse is entitled to the first $30,000. The spouse is entitled to one-third of the remaining funds, while the descendants share the remaining two-thirds equally;
- When a decedent is unmarried, but has descendants, the descendants receive the entirety of the award;
- When a decedent is unmarried and has no descendants, but is survived by one or more parents, the parents are entitled to recover;
- If the decedent is not survived by a spouse, descendants, or parents, the decedent’s siblings are entitled to share the award equally; and
- If the decedent is only survived by maternal and paternal grandparents, each pair of grandparents will receive one-half of the award.
Intestacy laws are very complicated. However, an experienced wrongful death attorney can make sure you understand where your recovery will end up.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, you must file your wrongful death claim within two years of the date the death occurred. The aftermath of losing a loved one can be a chaotic and overwhelming time.
However, it is important you seek legal representation as soon as possible due to the time-sensitive nature of wrongful death claims.
There are limited exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations. One is that when the decedent has a minor child, the statute of limitations may be tolled until two years after his or her 18th birthday.
The second exception occurs when the party entitled to recover for wrongful death suffers from a lack of capacities that prevents him or her from filing a claim within the original limitations period.
In that case, the two year period begins when the plaintiff regains capacity.
Nothing Can Replace My Lost Loved One—What’s the Point of Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?
Losing a loved one due to the neglect of another person is not only heartbreaking but infuriating. In most cases, the death was preventable, making matters even more devastating.
You may be wondering how financial compensation can come close to replacing the love and companionship of your lost loved one. Money is irrelevant in comparison to the individual. So why do you need to file a wrongful death suit?
First, unexpected accidents often result in significant financial obligations. Even if your loved one did not receive hospital treatment, funeral expenses add up quickly.
Recovering damages from the person who caused your loved one’s death can help ease these financial concerns.
Second, a wrongful death lawsuit provides a way to hold the negligent party responsible for your loved one’s death. Wrongful death suits are often the only way to hold a party accountable for their negligence.
Financial compensation cannot heal the pain caused by the loss of a family member, but demanding accountability from the responsible party can give you a sense of justice.
How Can a Wrongful Death Attorney in Charlotte Help Me?
A wrongful death lawyer can provide invaluable assistance during this time of need. We have experience in this area of law and can guide you through the process. A wrongful death attorney can assist you in the following ways:
- Calculating the potential compensation you may be able to recover;
- Settling the estate of your lost loved one;
- Negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf; and
- Preparing for trial, if necessary.
We are confident that our prior experience as insurance defense attorneys prepares us to provide the assistance our clients need. Our wrongful death lawyers at Mehta & McConnell can help you navigate your wrongful death claim. Reach out to us today for a free consultation.