It’s likely that you are already going through an excruciating time when you have lost a loved one in a tragic accident, or due to someone else’s wrongful actions. The last thing you may want to do is invest time and mental energy in the legal process.
However, it is an absolute must if you want to be compensated for your family member’s death under North Carolina law. The first thing that would need to happen for you to receive a settlement is that you must prove that the death was indeed wrongful. Call the Wilmington wrongful death attorneys at Horton & Mendez to schedule a free initial consultation.
Proving Fault in a Wrongful Death Case
You must prove that a wrongful action resulted in your loved one’s death. An intentional act that killed your loved one is considered wrongful, but you may also qualify for wrongful death compensation when you can prove that the defendant committed negligent conduct.
The standard for negligence in a wrongful death case is the same as it is in any other type of personal injury claim. In order to win your case, you must demonstrate the following:
- The defendant owed your loved one the duty of care by virtue of their relationship to them.
- The defendant breached the duty of care because they did something that would be considered unreasonable under the circumstances.
- Your loved one died.
- Your loved one would not have been injured had it not been for the actions of the defendant.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case?
Like every personal injury case, the degree of difficulty depends on the facts of your case. The facts and the law must be on your side for you to receive a settlement or jury award. You must have the evidence necessary to show that there was a wrongful death. Without that, you cannot meet your own burden of proof. Then, you would not be in any position to receive financial compensation.
Much depends on the nature of your case. For example, if a truck driver clearly veered out of their lane and struck your loved one, the case would be easier to prove. If the case involves proving whether the defendant was able to foresee a particular danger, it may be harder.
How Your Lawyer Can Prove a Wrongful Death Case
Your attorney helps you build the case that could prove the death was in fact wrongful. You must demonstrate your case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that your facts are more likely than not to have occurred.
Your lawyer may use the following as proof for your claim or lawsuit:
- Witness statements and testimony from people who saw the actual accident or the conditions directly beforehand
- Testimony from expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction specialists or engineers, who can give their opinion on the cause of the accident
- Physical evidence from the scene of the accident, such as broken equipment or parts that were not properly maintained
- Pictures from the scene of the accident or footage that a video camera that recorded the incident
- Medical documentation that can tie the wrongful actions to the death
- Police reports or other official documentation, which may be used in an insurance claim, although the police officer would need to physically testify in court if you file a lawsuit
How to Overcome the Absence of Your Loved One’s Testimony
One of the challenges that you may face is the fact that your loved one is no longer available to testify. There may be exceptions to the rules of evidence that could allow some of what they said before they died into evidence.
In addition, the role and function of the expert witnesses may be crucial in your case. It would be up to your lawyer to build the most credible combination of evidence that can prove your case.
Additionally, your lawyer has the ability to build your case further once you have already filed a wrongful death lawsuit. You have the opportunity to request evidence that is in the defendant’s possession that is relevant to your case. You can request documents and communications. Your lawyer can even question them under oath in a deposition. If you have built a strong case in discovery, the defendant and their insurance company may be even more likely to settle your case on more favorable terms for you.
Punitive Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
If you are able to build a strong case, you may be able to qualify for punitive damages.
However, it is very difficult to meet the standard necessary to qualify for punitive damages in a wrongful death case.
Under North Carolina law, you must prove that there was malice or wanton conduct for the jury to award you punitive damages for wrongful death.
You may be able to obtain punitive damages if someone willfully harmed your loved one. More often, you would be trying to demonstrate that the defendant committed wanton conduct.
Simply being negligent does not rise to the level of wanton conduct. The defendant must show some type of conscious disregard for the welfare and safety of others. If a truck driver is excessive speeding with an 80,000-pound vehicle, you may be able to make this case. What is considered wanton depends on the facts and circumstances of the situation. Your attorney usually tries to make the case that the defendant deserves to be punished for their actions.
Contact a Wilmington Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Your family may be entitled to substantial financial damages when you have suffered the personal injury of losing a loved one because of someone else’s wrongful actions. First, you need the help of an experienced wrongful death lawyer to prove your case and negotiate for the highest possible amount of compensation.