When someone dies in a car crash caused by a reckless, negligent or impaired driver, how can surviving loved ones seek justice and compensation? In a number of states, close family members are allowed to bring a wrongful death suit against the driver and potentially others they hold responsible for the death.
In North Carolina, surviving family members cannot directly file a wrongful death suit. It can only be filed by the executor (sometimes known as the personal representative) of the deceased person’s estate. If they didn’t have an estate plan where they named an executor, a probate court will appoint one.
An executor may well be a family member. However, in a wrongful death suit, they’ll be acting on behalf of the estate, and any compensation awarded in the suit will go to the estate. In most cases, however, this still means the money would likely go to close surviving family members.
Note that a wrongful death suit can be brought regardless of whether the at-fault driver is charged and convicted of a crime. Of course, it typically helps the wrongful death claim if they are determined to have broken the law.
What damages can you seek in a wrongful death suit?
Both economic and non-economic damages can be recovered in a wrongful death claim. Economic damages are typically for medical and funeral costs. A wrongful death claim can also seek non-economic damages for the pain and suffering of the deceased person before they died.
The law also allows for damages based on the “present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered.” These can include income as well as “services, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, whether voluntary or obligatory” – for example, if the deceased took care of the home and children, compensation for the value of those services is appropriate. The claim can also seek compensation for “companionship, comfort, guidance” and more that the deceased person provided to loved ones.
Basically, if the person who died would have been able to bring a personal injury suit against the at-fault driver, their estate can bring a wrongful death suit. It needs to be brought within two years of the person’s death. However, it’s best not to wait that long to seek legal guidance and begin reviewing your options.