When the unthinkable happens and a loved one is killed due to the carelessness of another person, the family of the deceased may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death cases can be very complex. The experienced North Carolina wrongful death attorneys at Horton & Mendez can help.
North Carolina law defines wrongful death in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28-A-18-2 as the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another. By bringing a wrongful death claim, the family or representative of the deceased may be able to recover damages.
Though money can never fully compensate the surviving family for the loss of a loved one, it can help pay for funeral expenses, medical bills, or other end of life expenses. The law also allows for the recovery of monetary compensation for pain and suffering, future lost income, and the loss of companionship, love, affection, and support. When appropriate, punitive damages may also be available to hold the negligent party accountable and to deter similarly bad conduct.
Recreational Boating Accidents
Pedestrian & Bicycle Accidents
Accidental Poisoning or Overdoses
Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
Defective and Dangerous Drugs
There can be confusion among the surviving family about who can use the legal process to hold the at-fault party accountable in a wrongful death case. Unlike a person injured in a car wreck who can file a claim on their own behalf, technically, no individual person possesses a wrongful death claim. The claim instead belongs to the estate of the deceased.
The estate is the conceptual equivalent to the deceased had they survived; in a sense, the claim is treated as an asset of the estate. Any recoverable damages endured by the deceased, or damages that may be owed to beneficiaries such as a dependent spouse or children, flows through the estate to the appropriate heirs.
In a North Carolina wrongful death case, only the “personal representative” is permitted to file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate. When the deceased has a will, the personal representative or executor is usually designated in the will. If there is no will, then the person qualifying under North Carolina’s intestate laws to be the personal representative will be appointed. If none of these apply, then the court will appoint a public representative.
Without professional legal help, it can be very difficult to sort out these often complex threshold matters. If you have lost a loved one, please contact us today so that we can help bring some clarity during this tragic and stressful time.
The beneficiaries to a wrongful death claim are the estate itself and any individual beneficiaries with a legal entitlement to recovery. The estate would be compensated for costs like funeral or medical expenses incurred on behalf of the deceased. Determining what expenses are owed to the estate is less complex than understanding who may have a legal entitlement to a claim on the proceeds.
North Carolina’s intestate succession laws control who receives what from a wrongful death claim. If there is a surviving spouse, the proceeds would flow to him or her. When there are also surviving children or parents of the deceased, they may also be entitled to receive some portion of the proceeds. The statutory distribution scheme is dependent on the circumstances involved in each individual case and can be complex.
Leave no stone unturned. The experienced North Carolina wrongful death attorneys at Horton & Mendez act quickly to investigate wrongful death claims before important evidence can be lost or destroyed. A wrongful death claim may involve obtaining medical or other records, working with law enforcement, interviewing witnesses, researching the at-fault party, and developing liability theories with experts such as accident reconstructionists or engineers. Doing those things early on in the case could make the difference between holding the at-fault party responsible and not.
The importance of a prompt and thorough investigation is not the only benefit of involving our attorneys as soon as possible. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations only allows wrongful death claims to be made within 2 years of death. Failing to bring a claim within that period can result in a complete bar to recovery.
Many family members who have experienced the loss of a loved one dread having to relive the tragedy during a trial. Listening to the opposing lawyer’s arguments and having twelve strangers on a jury make a decision regarding the monetary value of a family member’s life can be an incredibly grueling experience.
Even if a wrongful death case ultimately resolves without a trial, our attorneys believe that each case must be prepared as though it will be tried to a jury. In our experience, it is important that the other side knows we are prepared and willing to go to trial. If the other side sees that we have done what is necessary to prove the case and are capable of obtaining a large jury verdict, that can help put the case in a position to maximize its value during settlement negotiations.
We wear many different hats when handling wrongful death cases. At some stages in a case, our job is to gather evidence, assess the legal issues, and aggressively fight for our clients. At other stages, our role is that of a trusted counselor and advisor. Some of our most important work is done outside the courtroom helping clients navigate difficult decisions that will have an impact long after the case is over. We always put our clients interests first. Our attorneys will never encourage you to take an unfavorable settlement, nor push you towards trial if that is not in your best interests.
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