If someone you loved and relied upon has suffered a death because of the wrongful or negligent act of another, you may be entitled to compensation under North Carolina’s wrongful death law. While the compensation cannot bring a loved one back, it can assist in returning an income to the family or by bringing a sense of closure to the victim’s family.
A wrongful death claim in North Carolina is a statutory claim for the survivors of a person whose death was caused by a wrongful act. Under North Carolina law, a surviving family in a wrongful death action can recover damages including expenses incurred in the care of the deceased, pain and suffering of the deceased, reasonable funeral expenses, loss of income, loss of the companionship and society of the deceased, and other damages that are typical of a negligence action. What is compensable generally depends on the factual basis for the claim.
The North Carolina Statue regarding wrongful death § 28A-18-2 states:
(a.) When the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another, such, if the injured person had lived, have entitled him to an action for damages therefore, the person or corporation that would have been so liable, and his or their personal representatives or collectors, shall be liable to an action for damages to be brought by the personal representative or collector of the decedent; and this not withstanding the death, and although the wrongful act, neglect or default, causing the death, amounts in law to a felony. The personal representative or collector of the decedent who pursues an action under this section may pay from the assets of the estate the reasonable and necessary expenses, not including attorneys’ fees, incurred in pursuing the action. At the termination of the action, any amount recovered shall be applied first to the reimbursement of the estate for the expenses incurred in pursuing the action, then to the payment of attorneys’ fees, and shall then be distributed as provided in this section. The amount recovered in such action is not
liable to be applied as assets, in the payment of debts or legacies, except as to burial expenses of the deceased, and reasonable hospital and medical expenses not exceeding four thousand five hundered dollars ($4,500) incident to the injury resulting in death, except that the amount applied for hospital and medical expenses shall not exceed fifty percent (50%) of the amount of damages recovered after deducting attorneys’ fees, but shall be disposed of as provided in the Intestate Succession Act. All claims filed for such services shall be approved by the clerk of the superior court and any party adversely affected by any decision of said clerk as to said claim may appeal to the superior court in term time.
(b.) Damages recoverable for death by wrongful act include:
- Expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization incident to the injury resulting in death;
- Compensation for pain and suffering of the decedent;
- The reasonable funeral expenses of the decedent;
- The present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered, including but not limited to compensation for the loss of the reasonably expected;
a. Net income of the decedent,
b. Services, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, whether voluntary or obligatory, to the persons entitled to the damages recovered,
c. Society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent to the persons entitled to the damages recovered;
5. Such punitive damages as the decedent could have recovered pursuant to Chapter 1D of the General Statutes had he survived, and punitive damages for wrongfully causing the death of the decedent through malice or willful or wanton conduct, as defined in G.S. 1D-5;
6. Nominal damages when the jury so finds.
(c.) All evidence which reasonably tends to establish any of the elements of damages included in subsection (b), or otherwise reasonably tends to establish the present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered, is admissible in an action for damages for death by wrongful act.
(d.) In all actions brought under this section the dying declarations of the deceased shall be admissible as provided for in G.S. 8-51.1.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2 (2007). A wrongful death action could stem from medical negligence, motor vehicle negligence, or any other wrongful act. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is two years. Therefore, it is important to act as soon as possible where you think you might have a claim under the wrongful death statute.