Wrongful Death Laws in North Carolina

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The unfortunate passing of a loved one undoubtedly leaves the decedent’s surviving family members in a state of grief and despair. In addition to the emotional impact felt due to the loss of a relative, the surviving family members must also face the economic realities the situation. For example, the surviving family members often must figure out how future bills and expenses will be covered.

In these situations, a wrongful death cause of action may be available to help certain surviving family members seek compensation on behalf of the deceased. Put broadly, wrongful death lawsuits are a type of civil action that are brought against a person or entity who can be held liable for the death of another individual. Because wrongful death claims are established and mandated by state law, it is difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all description of a wrongful death claim.

If you have experienced the death of loved one, or if you would like to learn more about filing a wrongful death lawsuit, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation with our wrongful death attorneys.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in North Carolina?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action most commonly initiated by the surviving family members of a deceased individual against another person or entity who can be held liable for the death. A wrongful death claim exists when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person. A wrongful death lawsuit, if successful, can provide financial compensation in the form of damages to the party who brought the lawsuit.

In general, a fatality caused by the wrongful acts of another individual may provide grounds for the initiation of wrongful death claim. The State of North Carolina defines wrongful death as one caused “by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.” The North Carolina wrongful death statute also includes deaths caused by a wrongful act that would otherwise amount to a criminal felony under state law.

The language of North Carolina’s wrongful death statute essentially equates a wrongful death claim to personal injury claim that the deceased would have been able to bring if death had not occurred. This means that if the actions of the at-fault party would have entitled the deceased to pursue a personal injury claim, then the survivors of the deceased will be able to pursue a wrongful death claim in order to establish the defendant’s liability and seek damages.

It is also important to note that although the circumstances of a case may prompt law enforcement and prosecutors to criminally charge a defendant, a civil wrongful death action may still be pursued in civil court. However, because the interaction of criminal and civil cases arising from the same occurrence may pose difficult legal questions, it is worth discussing your options with a wrongful death attorney.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina?

North Carolina law mandates that a wrongful death claim be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. This personal representative is often designated by name in the deceased’s estate plan. Common choices include surviving spouses, adult children, or adult siblings of the deceased. If the designated individual cannot or will not serve as a personal representative of the deceased’s estate, or if no estate plan exists, the court will appoint a personal representative.

Although the personal representative is the one responsible for filing a wrongful death claim, the wrongful death claim may seek damages on behalf of both the estate and the surviving family members. At the conclusion of the wrongful death action, any damages awarded will be applied first to the reimbursement of the estate for the expenses incurred in pursuing the action, then to the payment of attorneys’ fees, and then will be distributed as provided in the statute.

What Damages are Available in a North Carolina Wrongful Death Claim?

In general, the following types of damages are available in successful wrongful death claims:

  • Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization relating to the injury that resulted in death;
  • Reasonable funeral expenses;
  • Compensation for the pain and suffering endured by the decedent;
  • Lost income;
  • Loss of the deceased person’s services, protection, care, and assistance; and
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice

Under certain circumstances, punitive damages may also be available. Unlike typical compensatory damages, which are intended to make a party whole, punitive damages are intended to punish acts which are particularly malicious or willful.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina?

North Carolina law mandates that a wrongful death claim be filed within two years of the date of the deceased’s death. This statute of limitations means that wrongful death claims filed more than two years after the date of the deceased’s death are effectively barred from being litigated in court. However, some circumstances may “toll” or pause this time period. If you find yourself near the filing deadline, it is worth discussing your case with a attorney who may be able to provide valuable information and guidance regarding North Carolina’s statute of limitations.


At Zinda Law Group, our attorneys have plenty of experience litigating and resolving wrongful death cases. Our team has the resources necessary to help build the strongest claim following the death of a loved one. Our dedicated attorneys are on stand-by, waiting to help grieving family members seek fair compensation for their losses.

If you would like to discuss the details of your case with an experienced wrongful death lawyer, or if you would like to learn more about filing a wrongful death claim, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive your free case evaluation.
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