When the thirteen colonies established their legal systems, they generally followed the English common law. One of the significant omissions caused by this practice was the failure to recognize claims for the wrongful death of another. In other words, if a father were killed by the negligent act of another person, the family of the decedent had no cause of action for the loss of companionship and income provided by the father. States began to remedy this injustice early in the twentieth century. North Carolina passed its first statute allowing a claim for wrongful death in 1919, and the law has been modified several times in the ensuing years.
The statute itself is straightforward: if a person dies because of the wrongful act of another, the personal representative of the decedent's estate can sue the party or parties liable for the death to recover the damages enumerated in the statues. The failure to use due care, or negligence, is a wrongful act within the meaning of the law. The personal representative is entitled to use the assets in the decedent's estate to pay the costs of the law suit, provided that such expenses are reimbursed to the estate if the claim succeeds.
The statute enumerates the kinds of damages that can be recovered. This includes medical expenses that were necessary to provide care, treatment and hospitalization for the decedent; compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent; reasonable funeral expenses for the decedent; reasonable present value of any expected net income of the decedent, the care and assistance of the decedent and the society and companionship that would have been provided by the decedent and punitive damages that the decedent could have recovered if the decedent had survived.
Dealing with the unexpected loss of a family member is difficult on its own, and trying to cope with a lawsuit to recover damages only adds to the burden. The assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney can provide significant assistance in evaluating the evidence. They can also help assess the damages suffered and estimate the likelihood of recovering damages.