Wrongful death lawsuits are at the extreme end of the civil law tradition that allows people harmed by the negligence of others to receive financial compensation for their losses. The defendant, alleged to have been negligent may not receive a criminal sentence.
Under North Carolina law, the assumption is that if the deceased had lived, he or she would have been able to sue for his own personal injuries. However, the strange thing about wrongful death lawsuits is that the courts have to quantify in financial terms such mysterious philosophically loaded ideas as the value of human life.
The role of wrongful death attorneys is to help those bringing the suit, the plaintiffs, who are usually family of the deceased victim, to
- prove that the death is the result of the defendant’s negligence,
- put a financial value on the loss of life.
Although life can never be replaced, the financial consequences of the death of a provider or financial contributor to a family can be devastating. There are costs imposed by the death itself, including funeral expenses and possible pre-death medical and care costs. Value can also be put on the emotional pain and suffering imposed on the family due to a loss.
The wrongful death suit can be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. If no personal representative has been named in the estate plan the court will have to accept or appoint someone, usually a surviving spouse, parents, or adult children empowering them to file the suit. Any damages are awarded to the estate of the deceased.
North Carolina has a time limit or statute of limitations on wrongful death suits. They must be filed in court within two years of the death. If the suit is not filed within three years, North Carolina courts will almost certainly refuse to hear the case. However, the statute of limitations can be affected by certain specific facts or events. It is important to consult an attorney with experience in wrongful death law to determine exactly how the statute of limitations applies in a particular case.