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Wrongful Death FAQs

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Wrongful Death

What is a wrongful death case?

A wrongful death case is when the death of a person is caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another such that had the victim survived they would have a legally recognizable claim for personal injury. In other words, a wrongful death case is simply a personal injury case where the victim died rather than suffered only injuries as a result of the negligent act.

Who has the right to file a claim for wrongful death?

Generally, an estate is set up for the victim of the wrongful death. In setting up an estate, an administrator or personal representative will be appointed and that person then has the right to bring forward a claim for wrongful death on behalf of the estate. In many instances, the primary beneficiary will serve as the administrator but there is no requirement that anyone entitled to receive funds from any wrongful death claim actually be the administrator. An attorney can help set up the estate and explain the roles of an administrator. The administrator would then be the one who has the right to hire an attorney to represent the estate in pursuit of a wrongful death claim.

What are the damages in a wrongful death case?

In North Carolina, damages recoverable for wrongful death include:

  1. Expenses for treatment incident to the injury resulting in death up to $4,500.00 or 50% of the net recovery, whichever is less;
  2. Compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent;
  3. The reasonable funeral expenses of the decedent;
  4. 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;
  5. Net income of the decedent,
  6. Service, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, whether voluntary or obligatory, to the persons entitled to the damage recovered;
  7. Such punitive damages as the decedent could have recovered had the decedent survived, and punitive damages for wrongfully causing the death of the decedent through malice or willful or wanton conduct.
  8. Nominal damages when the jury so finds.

In some cases it may be necessary to hire an economic expert to determine the present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered. This can be particularly important when the decedent was gainfully employed prior to death. An attorney can help you determine the value of these damages and whether any expert testimony would be beneficial or necessary.

What happens to any money recovered in a wrongful death case?

At the conclusion of any wrongful death action, any amount received shall be applied first to reimbursement of the estate for the expenses incurred in pursuing the action and the remainder shall then be distributed as provided in the Intestate Succession Act. The Intestate Succession Act is North Carolina’s default rules for the distribution of a decedent’s proceeds to heirs. These heirs are commonly referred to as beneficiaries of the wrongful death action. An attorney can help you determine who qualifies as a beneficiary that can take under a wrongful death action and how any proceeds would be distributed.