Serious accidents can cause traumatic injuries and, in tragic cases, even death. In North Carolina, cases that involve the death of a person are called “wrongful death” actions and allow recovery of a special set of damages in additional to regular personal injury damages. Additionally, “wrongful death” actions have special laws and procedures that an experienced personal injury lawyer is ready to help you navigate.

Who Files the Wrongful Death Claim?

Unlike a typical personal injury claim, a wrongful death claim is brought by a representative of the deceased person’s estate. Sometimes that is the executor of the estate and sometimes it is by special court appointment. That representative will “stand in” for the deceased person as though it was representative’s own injury. However, as addressed below, that representative does not receive any damages or recovery from the lawsuit.

How Long Do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

You have two (2) years from the date of the death to bring a wrongful death claim. Unfortunately, if the claim is brought after the two-year deadline, the court could dismiss it. That’s why it is important to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to make sure you don’t lose your right to bring a claim.

Who Receives the damages recovered from the lawsuit?

If the lawsuit results in damages or recovery, that money is paid to the estate of the deceased person. One purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to ensure that medical bills and expenses related to the accident and death are covered, so some of any recovery will be used by the personal representative to pay for funeral expenses, medical bills, and legal fees. The remainder of any settlement or judgment is then paid to the estate. Those funds will then be distributed according to the deceased person’s estate planning (if they have a will) or will be divided among the deceased person's family pursuant to North Carolina law. Our experienced trusts and wills lawyers can answer any questions you have about how estate planning or North Carolina law can affect your wrongful death claim.

What damages can be Recovered?

There are two types of damages that can be recovered for a wrongful death claim. First, you can recover the same type of damages normally available in a personal injury claim for the deceased person’s pain and suffering and medical bills. Second, you can recover special wrongful death damages that include damages to family members and the deceased person’s estate.

Personal injury damages on behalf of the deceased person includes:

  • Reasonable funeral expenses

  • Reasonable medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident

  • Conscious pain and suffering prior to death

Special wrongful death damages for the deceased person’s family includes:

  • Loss of the decedent’s companionship, comfort, and guidance

  • Loss of the decedent’s services, assistance, protection, and care

  • Loss of the decedent’s reasonable future income

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