Unfortunately people are killed in car crashes daily. If a loved one has been killed in a car accident, you may be asking yourself the following questions - what exactly is a wrongful death claim? Is there another party at fault and can that person be held liable for my loved one’s death? Who can actually recover damages if there are any? How long do I have to file a claim? Should I hire an attorney?
What exactly is a wrongful death claim?
North Carolina defines wrongful death as when “the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another . . .” N.C. Gen. Stat. §28A-18-2. There can be no wrongful death claim if the person who was killed would not have had a personal injury claim had they survived. So in the case of a car accident, if your loved one caused the accident, and there were no extenuating circumstances, then he/she would not have a claim had they survived and there can be no wrongful death claim.
Is there another party at fault and can that person be held liable for my loved one’s death?
This is one of the most important questions that needs to be asked and answered before determining if a claim exists. In order to have a successful car accident claim (any car accident claim, not just wrongful death car accident claim) you will have to prove that the other party was at fault; that there was negligence or recklessness.
You will have to prove two things. First, you will need to show that the other party was the cause of your loved one’s death. That should be relatively easy to show, as you will only need to show that the defendant caused your loved one’s death. Assuming that your loved one was killed at the scene of a car accident, or died shortly thereafter from injuries sustained in the accident, this is a relatively easy burden to meet.
Second, you will need to show that your loved one’s death was a “foreseeable result” of the other party’s actions and that they should therefore be liable for the death. This is harder to prove, and you will need to show that if the other party had not acted negligently or recklessly (or failed to act at all), then your loved one would not have died.
For example, assume that the other party was driving 60 mph in a 35 mph zone, and crossed over the middle line before hitting and killing your loved one. It is foreseeable that both excessive speeding, and crossing over the middle line, could cause a bad, or deadly, car crash. In that situation, you should be able to prove “foreseeable result” relatively easily and recover on behalf of your loved one.
North Carolina is one of only a few states that follows the contributory negligence rule. Under the contributory negligence rule, if your loved one was even partially at fault for the accident, then recovery may be barred. So as part of your case, you will need to show that the car accident was caused solely by the other party.
Who can file a claim?
Under North Carolina law, only the estate of your deceased loved one can file a wrongful death claim. This is typically done on behalf of the deceased victim’s spouse, parents or children.
Assuming that a suit is successful, then the damages from the suit will be distributed under North Carolina’s laws of intestate succession, not based on the terms of your loved one’s will. While this can vary, under intestate succession, normally the proceeds will pass first to a spouse and children before passing to parents or more distant relatives.
How long do I have to file a claim?
All legal claims, both civil and criminal, are governed by a statute of limitations, or a deadline, in which you can file a claim. Statutes of limitations set forth the maximum time period in which a claim can be filed. They vary depending on the type of claim at issue and can vary from state to state.
In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, which includes car accidents where either you or a loved one has been injured, is three years. That means that you have three years from the date the accident occured, or in some cases three years from the date that you realized there was a legal claim, to file a claim.
However, the statute of limitations for wrongful death from a car accident is shorter, it is only two years. The statute starts running on the date that your loved one died. If you fail to file a claim within two years, even if it is two years and two days after the accident, a court will likely kick your case out and refuse to hear your claim.
There are some exceptions to the statutes of limitations, so it is important that you talk to an experienced Charlotte, North Carolina attorney to see if any exceptions apply in your case.
What damages are available?
The damages available in a wrongful death claim are similar to those available if you were bringing your own personal injury claim. You are entitled to recover:
- medical expenses
- funeral (including burial) expenses
- money for pain and suffering that your loved one experienced
- loss of your loved one’s income, current and future
- loss of your loved one’s companionship and care
Should I hire an attorney?
Proving that the other party was at fault, and solely at fault, for the accident that killed your loved one can be difficult. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you with all of these things and see you through a difficult time.
Let Our Charlotte, North Carolina Wrongful Death Attorneys Review Your Case
If a loved one died due to the actions of another party and you believe that a wrongful death claim might exist, the Charlotte NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced wrongful death attorneys who can help. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.