Wrongful Death FAQ

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Q: What does "wrongful death" mean?

A: Wrongful death is defined as the death of a person caused by negligence, accident or the intentional act of another person or entity. Surviving family members can file a civil lawsuit against the negligent party for funeral costs, lost wages, and other damages.

Q: Who is allowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit?

A: In most cases, those who are directly dependent on the deceased such as the minor children, spouse or parents are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The person or people bringing the lawsuit must have been reliant on the deceased financially, emotionally or both.

Q: What compensation am I entitled to?

A: As the surviving family member, you could recover compensation for:

  • Funeral costs
  • Lifesaving medical procedures related to the accident and prior to the death
  • Anticipated loss in income or wages that the deceased would have provided (usually a lump-sum payment)
  • Loss of society, companionship, fellowship, services, protection, care, assistance and other benefits of relationship
  • Emotional pain and suffering

Q: How long does a wrongful death claim take?

In North Carolina, as in most states, the statute of limitations (or the time limit) for filing a wrongful death suit is two years from the time of death. A claim for wrongful death may commence almost immediately. Unlike some personal injury claims, maximum medical improvement (time for recovery from injury caused by the wrongful acts or negligence of a defendant) is not a necessary element because death has already occurred.

The amount of time from the date your case has been filed until it is resolved varies depending on the facts associated with your suit. Many claims are settled through pretrial mediation and do not require courtroom intervention. That said, more difficult or complex cases may require litigation to resolve.

Q: Is there a difference between murder and wrongful death?

A: Yes. A murder case is a criminal proceeding brought by the state. It is punishable by incarceration and other penalties. A civil case like a wrongful death claim is filed by the person affected by the death of another. In most cases, if the defendant is found guilty, they are liable to pay damages to the estate of the deceased, as opposed to going to jail.

Furthermore, in a murder trial, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit a crime (the notion of having "criminal intent"). In a civil case, the lawyer's burden of proof is to demonstrate that the defendant's negligent acts caused the death, whether or not the defendant intended to harm the deceased.