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What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

There were more than 250,000 car accidents reported in North Carolina in 2020. Of those, 1,783 resulted in fatalities—an increase of 7.5% from the previous year. In many of those cases, a wrongful death lawsuit would have been filed, though that’s not the only circumstance in which this action might be taken. A wrongful death lawyer can assist in these devastating cases.

Picture of a woman at a funeral for the blog about wrongful death lawsuit.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

“Wrongful death” is best defined as a death that occurs as a result of the misconduct or negligence of someone else. 

A wrongful death lawsuit, then, is a lawsuit filed by surviving family members or other representatives of the deceased in order to recover some monetary compensation for costs incurred by their loss. Those might include: 

  • Lost wages from the deceased
  • Funeral expenses 
  • Grief or loss of companionship 
  • Medical bills

A wrongful death lawsuit can result in either compensation awarded by the court or a settlement from the party at fault or the insurer.  

Common Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

There are a few different types of wrongful death lawsuits that can be filed in North Carolina, depending on the circumstances. A wrongful death attorney can help determine which is best to pursue, and the exact compensation that may be gained. When choosing a law firm to represent you in your wrongful death lawsuit, choose a team of attorneys who have tried these types of cases before, as not all law firms are experienced in winning these types of complex cases. Ask for wrongful death case results and referrals when hiring an attorney.

1. Negligence 

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed in situations in which death was caused by the negligence of the other party. In these cases, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove that the defendant acted or neglected to act in a way that caused harm. 

These are typically filed in cases of:

2. Intentional

In some cases, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed if the actions taken were intentional. These can be filed in cases such as: 

  • Murder
  • Assault and battery 

There are many differences between a murder or assault criminal charge and an intentional wrongful death lawsuit, but one of the most glaring is in the consequences. While a murder trial and conviction involve a criminal penalty of jail time, an intentional wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action taken with the sole purpose of financial compensation for losses accrued by the death. 

Often, a wrongful death lawsuit will be filed in addition to the criminal charge. The civil lawsuit also tends to require less evidence in order to result in a win for the plaintiff. For instance, someone may not be convicted of murder due to reasonable doubt, but that same amount of evidence may be enough to hold the defendant liable in a civil case. 

3. Malpractice

A malpractice wrongful death lawsuit is usually filed when the case involves the actions—or lack thereof—of a medical professional. In these cases, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove that the death was the result of the mistake or negligence of the provider.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit 

The rules for who can file a wrongful death lawsuit vary from state to state. In North Carolina,  the state’s wrongful death statute dictates that only a personal representative of the deceased can sue for wrongful death. In most cases that representative is the executor of their estate. 

There are some cases in which someone has not named an executor in their will, or does not have a will to refer to. In those cases, the family of the individual can petition the court to appoint a representative who can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Compensation for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Most wrongful death lawsuits are filed in an attempt to recover financial compensation. A plaintiff may file for an amount that includes some or all of the following: 

  • Loss of support
  • Lost inheritance 
  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages 

A wrongful death attorney works closely with their client to estimate the financial costs of the event in question, from actual accrued expenses to future losses.

Proving Wrongful Death

Attorneys who work on wrongful death lawsuits are focused on proving one or more of the following:

  • The defendant had a duty of care to the deceased
  • The defendant breached or failed to fulfill that duty 
  • That failure caused the death 
  • The party filing the lawsuit has suffered financial damages as a result of the death 

The burden of proof is another way in which a civil wrongful death lawsuit differs from a murder case. In a murder trial, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond all reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death case, however, the plaintiff’s attorney only has to prove that it is more likely than not that the death was caused by the defendant. That means they must prove there is at least a 51% chance that the defendant is at fault.  

How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit 

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit should be done in the county in which the death occurred, and with the assistance of a wrongful death attorney who can investigate, negotiate, and advocate for compensation. 

In most cases, the representative will first attempt to negotiate with either the insurer representing the defendant, or the entity themselves. If the two parties are not able to reach a settlement, the case will then move to court.

What Does a Wrongful Death Attorney Do

Whether the lawsuit is settled outside of a courtroom or makes its way to a judge or jury, the right attorney is a valuable partner to have by your side. 

An attorney in a wrongful death lawsuit can: 

  • Investigate the circumstances and cause of death
  • Determine who is liable for the death
  • Negotiate with insurance companies and individuals
  • Determine who is eligible to serve as the personal representative 
  • File claims with insurance companies
  • Prepare a lawsuit and represent their client in court

Get a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Evaluation

An experienced and qualified attorney can take on the work of the suit itself, so their client can focus on the emotional and mental health of themselves and their family in the midst of a loss, and the many other tasks that need to be done in the wake. 

At Van Camp, Meacham & Newman, our wrongful death lawyers are available for a 30-minute initial session at no cost. Here, those looking to file a wrongful death suit can ask any and all questions they may have and get advice on what kind of case they need to file and how to go about doing it. If a client decides to hire one of our wrongful death attorneys, they can quickly get on the case to begin advocating for them.

Schedule a free consultation with us by contacting our firm online, or calling us at  910-295-2525.

Disclaimer: The information seen on this website, including the article above, is not legal advice or legal counsel. If you wish to speak to a wrongful death attorney who serves RaleighFayettevillePinehurstSanford, and beyond, contact our North Carolina attorneys directly using our online form or by calling  910-295-2525.

Van Camp Law Firm in Pinehurst, North Carolina

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