When someone suffers a serious injury due to another party’s negligent or purposeful actions, they have the option of seeking compensation for their losses through a personal injury lawsuit.

What happens, however, when someone dies as a result of their injuries? They’re no longer able to seek any measure of justice for themselves, but that doesn’t mean that the responsible party can’t be held accountable through a wrongful death claim.

Wrongful death claims, like regular personal injury lawsuits, are private actions. They’re brought in civil court, not criminal court, and they ask the judge or jury to impose financial penalties on the “bad actor,” instead of putting them in jail. Since the standard of proof for a civil claim is much lower than that used in a criminal case, wrongful death claims can be successfully pursued even when criminal charges aren’t imposed.

Each state has its own rules regarding how wrongful death claims work. In North Carolina:

  • Wrongful death claims can only be pursued by the deceased’s personal representative, usually the person who is the executor of their estate. If there’s no will (and no executor), the court may appoint a close family member as the deceased’s representative.
  • The deceased’s estate may claim medical expenses related to the accident, reasonable funeral expenses and the value of the deceased’s lost income, services and companionship, among other things.
  • Any proceeds from a successful claim are divided up according to state law (not the terms of any existing will) based on what survivors are left. Spouses and children have a superior claim to other relatives.

You only have two years to seek a wrongful death claim in this state. If your loved one died due to someone else’s wrongful or negligent actions, find out how an experienced attorney can help you move forward.