A North Carolina woman died on April 29, 2014, when the 2007 Honda Civic she was riding in hit a car pulling out of a private driveway. The accident happened on U.S Highway 58 near Route 734 in Pittsylvania County. The victim, 77-year-old Lois Scott Stewart, was transported to Danville Regional Medical Hospital but was pronounced dead soon after the crash.

Ms. Stewart was riding in the front passenger seat of the Civic traveling eastbound.  A 2012 Chevrolet Malibu pulled out of a driveway without stopping for the Civic and crashed into it. The driver of the Civic, the driver of the Malubu, and his passenger were also transported to Danville Regional Medical Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Both drivers and passengers were wearing safety belts during the accident

The driver of the Malibu has been charged with failing to yield the right of way and operating a vehicle on a suspended operator’s license.

Ms. Stewart, as a passenger in the car, was helpless to avoid this collision, yet she lost her life because of it. My thoughts and prayers are with her family as they cope with the sudden loss of their loved one.

When a person dies in an accident, the family may file a wrongful death lawsuit, which is different from a personal injury lawsuit. A victim of a fatal car accident has a personal representative who is usually named in a will and is most likely a close relative, such as a spouse or child. It is important to determine who is the proper personal representative as soon as possible because the personal representative is the person with the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. North Carolina has a two year statute of limitations on wrongful death actions, which means if the beneficiaries do not file a claim within two years they cannot recover at all.

When the victim was a passenger in the car, as Ms. Stewart was, the beneficiaries are often hesitant to make a claim against the driver’s insurance policy, especially when the driver was a friend or relative. It’s important to remember that it is an insurance company’s purpose to cover – or partially cover – the loss resulting from an accident. Moreover, it’s particularly important to pursue the driver’s insurance company if an investigation has not yet determined who was the at-fault driver. 

Beneficiaries of fatal accident victims should be compensated for their loss, and in some cases send a message to the at-fault driver through punitive damages. They have been robbed of precious time with their loved one, and this is no less true when the victim is elderly. Fair compensation extends beyond funeral expenses to include such non-economic damages as mental anguish and sorrow. To learn more, see this article on the basics of a North Carolina wrongful death case.