A loved one’s death can be devastating. This is even more so if it was caused by negligence. To make matters worse, the family may be left with a heavy financial burden, particularly if the deceased was the breadwinner.
There is no amount that can replace the loss of a loved one. However, wrongful-death lawyers can help surviving relatives who can be awarded compensation seek justice for their loved ones through a wrongful-death claim.
What are the most common causes of wrongful deaths in North Carolina?
Car accidents are the leading cause of wrongful deaths in the US and North Carolina. These accidents are often caused by drunk driving, distracted driving while speeding, aggressive drivers, and other road users.
Defective parts, such as defective brakes or suspensions, can also cause wrongful death. You can sue the manufacturer to seek compensation for your injuries.
Car accidents can also be caused by poorly maintained roads. These accidents can eventually lead to wrongful deaths. You must file a wrongful-death lawsuit if your loved one is the victim of a wrongful death within the time limit. You can rely on your wrongful death attorney to assist you with this process as well as represent you in court.
Workplace accidents often cause severe injuries, just like other types of accidents. Sometimes, these accidents can even lead to the death or disability of an employee.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, slips and trips at work are more likely to be caused by:
- The CDC determined
20% of falls at the same level can be attributed to trips.
Slips account for 13% of all falls at the same level. 11% of falls to lower levels occur when someone falls through a surface, or an opening.
Even if you don’t work in an environment that encourages slips, trips and falls (like scaffolding or ladders), there are still areas where accidents can happen.
Be aware of any objects or areas that could increase the chance of someone falling, tripping, or slipping when you inspect your workplace. Fatal injuries have been caused by:
- Slippery surfaces
- Broken equipment
- Safety signage is not required in certain areas
These are some of the most dangerous occupations found in North Carolina:
- Electric power line worker
- Sanitation worker
- Iron worker
- Taxi driver
With 39 deaths, private construction experienced the most workplace fatalities in the state.
Safety at work is something workers should expect. Workers in North Carolina are injured or killed while on the job every week. The state record is 186 work-related deaths in 2019, an increase from the previous year.
- When a worker dies on the job, the cost of this often falls on the worker’s family. This includes:
- Injuries can result in rehabilitation and medical expenses.
- The pain and suffering of the deceased before his/her death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost income
- The loss of services, protection, care, or assistance provided by the decease
- Loss of companionship, comfort and guidance.
Workers’ compensation insurance covers you if a loved one dies in an accident at work. Employers must take safety precautions, such as gloves and keeping the workplace orderly. They also need to educate employees and managers to avoid any accidents that could lead to death.
Johns Hopkins University notes that medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death for adults in the United States. In their study, Johns Hopkins concluded that over 250,000 fatalities that relate to malpractice and negligence occur each year.
The Johns Hopkins research team studied four separate studies of medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008 and hospital admission data from 2013. By extrapolating, they found that in the US alone, 251,454 deaths stemmed from a medical error. Deaths stemming from a medical error, translates to 9.5 percent of all deaths each year in the U.S.
Many people worldwide trust medical professionals with their lives. Each year, the number of medical malpractice cases in America continues to rise, resulting in the death of loved ones and friends. Here are some examples of medical malpractice:
- Wrong diagnosis
- The wrong treatment
- False prescription
- Surgical mistakes
Medical professionals should ensure that they follow up with patients and obtain consent before performing any treatments or procedures. They also need to communicate effectively with patients in order to avoid this type of malpractice. You can file a wrongful-death claim if your loved one is the victim of medical malpractice.
Unlawful death can also result from plane crashes. Accidents can be caused by pilot error, weather conditions or mechanical error. When an airplane crashes, the manufacturer or the airline is responsible. The family members of the victims could sue the airline if the accident was caused by negligence. If the plane’s defective component caused the crash, the manufacturer could be held liable.
Product liability negligence is when manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors sell defective products to consumers. This can lead to injury or even death. Manufacturers and suppliers can be held liable for any death caused by their products.
FAQs About Wrongful Death
What is “Wrongful death” in North Carolina?
North Carolina law defines “wrongful death” to be one that is due to “a wrongful act or neglect of another” person, entity, or person. If the person survived, they would have been entitled to file a personal injuries lawsuit. (N.C. Gen. Stat. SS 28A-18-2 (2021).
It’s useful to consider a wrongful-death case as a personal injury case in which the victim can no longer bring him or herself to court. An alternative is for another party to bring the matter before the court.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be based on many events, just like a personal injury case.
A negligence-based event (such as an auto accident).
Medical Malpractice, or
An intentional act (including an offense).
As in all other types of personal injuries lawsuits, the defendant’s liability for wrongful death is limited to financial damages (“damages”) the court orders him to pay to the estate or survivors of the deceased. This is a major distinction between a wrongful-death lawsuit and a criminal case for homicide, in which a conviction could result in prison or jail time, fines paid by the state, probation and other penalties.
There are some differences between a civil wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal case for homicide. In a criminal case, the state must prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is a high standard for the prosecution. A civil case will require that the defendant’s liability be proven only by “a preponderance” of evidence. This means it must be more likely the defendant was responsible for the death. North Carolina law allows for the possibility of a single act resulting in criminal charges or a claim for wrongful deaths. A defendant can be sued in civil court for wrongful killing while also facing criminal charges for the same death.
Who can file a North Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In some states, the surviving relatives of the deceased can file a wrongful-death lawsuit. However, in North Carolina, the personal representatives (sometimes called “executor”) can file a claim before the court. A will may have been made by the deceased. If so, they most likely appointed a personal representative. The court will appoint another person if the personal representative in the will is unable or unwilling to serve, or if there was no estate plan. Personal representatives can be chosen from survivors, parents or adult children.
What is the maximum time I can file a North Carolina wrongful death claim?
A law known as a “statute to limitations” sets a time limit for wrongful death lawsuits. A North Carolina court must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the death date. (N.C. Gen. Stat. SS 1-53 (2021). The court will almost certainly reject a lawsuit that is filed after the two-year deadline.
What Damages are Available in a North Carolina Case of Wrongful Death?
A successful wrongful death suit requires the court to order the defendant to pay damages (or the plaintiff’s losses) to the survivors or estate of the deceased. In North Carolina, wrongful death cases can result in damages that compensate for many losses, including:
- Hospital and medical expenses resulting from an injury or illness that led to the death
- The suffering and pain suffered by the decedent
- Funeral and burial costs are reasonable
- Income loss due to the death of the person
- Loss of services, protection, care, or assistance provided by the deceased.
- Loss of companionship, comfort and guidance.
In North Carolina, punitive damages may also be awarded if the death was due to “malice, willful or wanton behavior.” Punitive damages do not seek to compensate the estate or family, unlike other types of damages. They should punish the defendant and deter future similar conduct.
What is a “wild death” case?
“Wild death” cases are civil actions brought by the survivors or estate of someone who has died from the negligence or intentional acts of another. Each state has its own set of rules regarding wrongful death cases, which includes rules that identify who can sue in civil court. The suit can be filed by a relative or personal representative of an estate that has died.
What are the Different Categories of Damages for a Wrongful Death Case?
In wrongful death cases, damages are usually divided into two broad categories. These two categories are typically defined by two different time periods.
This first category allows for the recovery of damages suffered by the deceased between the time the negligent act caused the death and the time the decedent died. In the example of a car crash, this would include the time between the accident and the death of the victim. This could happen hours or even weeks following the accident. This category includes medical expenses, mental and physical pain and suffering of the deceased, lost wages and funeral and burial costs.
The second category covers losses suffered by the next of kin following the death of the deceased. This category of damages is intended to compensate family survivors for financial losses. These damages, according to the laws of each state, replace the amount of money that the deceased would have earned if he or she had not died prematurely. This includes lost wages earned up to the time the deceased is expected to retire.
Some states allow for claims for “loss-of-consortia,” which is when a spouse or other immediate family member is deprived of the deceased’s love and companionship. This is especially true if an adult parent dies, leaving behind minor children without guidance.
Who can be awarded damages in a wrongful death case?
A court will consider many factors when deciding what damages are appropriate in a wrongful-death lawsuit. These include the relationship of the deceased with his or her surviving family members. In most cases, wrongful death damages may be awarded to:
- Spouses – The spouse who survives the death of the spouse may have a claim for lost companionship and emotional trauma.
- Children – Children, but not usually adults, may be awarded damages for the loss of benefits from their relationship with the deceased parent. This includes comfort and support.
- Parents – Parents of minor children who have died (but not usually parents of adult kids) may also be entitled to damages for emotional trauma and lost relationships.
Punitive damages can be awarded to the family members who survived the death of the deceased, depending on the circumstances. If the defendant’s conduct was particularly reckless or egregious, punitive damages may be awarded. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and discourage similar conduct in the future.
What about Immunity for Government Employees and Agencies?
Some people or agencies might be exempt from a wrongful-death lawsuit in certain cases. They cannot be sued for wrongful deaths. The state that you might be eligible for immunity varies. In certain situations, employees and government agencies might be exempt from a wrongful-death lawsuit. Family members may also be exempt in certain circumstances.
Federal laws have recently provided immunity for defendants in railroad collisions as well as certain product liability cases involving medical device. In a case called Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., Inc., v. Bartlett, the US Supreme Court ruled that generic drug manufacturers cannot be held responsible in state court personal injury or death lawsuits based on the alleged “unreasonably hazardous” nature of a drug. This was after the FDA approved the “name brand” drug as well as its labeling.
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If someone is killed by an intentional or negligent injury, survivors might file a wrongful-death claim to recover lost wages, care and companionship, funeral and burial costs, and other damages.
Spouses and children are eligible to bring wrongful death lawsuits in North Carolina. Parents or the personal representative of the estate may bring a claim if the deceased was not married and had no children. You can get help from a qualified personal injury attorney.
Our legal system is founded on the belief that everyone deserves justice. This idea should be a core value for personal injury lawyers handling every case. The financial burden of someone else’s negligence should not be on the shoulders of injured victims.
A personal injury lawyer can help you if you have been injured and you want to get the compensation you deserve.