When someone dies in North Carolina due to the negligent or wrongful actions of another person, the surviving family members have the option of filing a civil claim against the responsible party. This kind of lawsuit is known as a wrongful death claim and exists to hold negligent or reckless individuals or organizations financially responsible for their actions. The following is some basic information about these types of claims.
Purpose of a wrongful death claim
North Carolina wrongful death claims are based on a desire to compensate the families of those killed. The civil claims exist so that the children, surviving spouses, parents or even siblings of a recently deceased person can sue those responsible for the loss of a loved one.
Civil, not criminal
It’s important to understand that while wrongful death cases might involve criminal matters, such as a drunk driver who hits and kills a family member, they are not themselves criminal cases. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil claims and are filed by families, not by prosecutors. It’s also good to know that wrongful death suits can move forward regardless of the results of any criminal case pending against the responsible party.
What you need to prove
North Carolina law says that the surviving family members who file a wrongful death claim must show that another person or group of people was responsible for the death of their loved one. This can be shown either through negligence, recklessness or intentional conduct. Those filing a wrongful death claim must also show that they were harmed as a result of the death and are entitled to compensation for their damages. The harm can be financial (medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of income, etc.) or even emotional (pain and suffering, loss of companionship, etc.).
Types of damages
In North Carolina wrongful death lawsuits there are three kinds of damages that can be awarded. One category includes economic damage. This means things like lost future income, funeral bills, hospital bills and other tangible costs that the family incurred. A second category is non-economic damages, which includes things like emotional trauma, pain and suffering and loss of companionship. Finally, in some cases punitive damages might also be awarded. These occur in cases where juries decide to send a strong message to others that the behavior at issue was so serious that they deserve additional financial punishment.
The following is a YouTube video where one of our firm's wrongful death attorneys discusses the wrongful death claims process: