Wrongful Death Lawyer in Greensboro
Losing someone you love in an unexpected tragedy can feel overwhelming. In addition to intense grief, you may face significant financial hardships from a loss of household income, unexpected funeral expenses, and the loss of your loved one’s companionship and support.
Legal action may be the last thing on your mind at this difficult time. But the money you may seek through a wrongful death claim can provide the resources you need to support your family, provide some financial stability, and move forward.
People who lose a loved one who they depended on for financial support deserve compensation. You should not be saddled with debt because of someone else’s negligent actions or misconduct.
At Hardison & Cochran, our trusted Greensboro wrongful death attorneys have more than 30 years of experience helping devastated families seek full compensation for their losses.
We offer our legal services on a contingency fee basis. That means your family will not pay any legal fee unless we obtain compensation for you through an insurance settlement or court award.
If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, we can help you understand the appropriate steps to take and whether a wrongful death claim is in order during a courtesy consultation.
We will provide dependable guidance to help you make well-informed decisions about your future. Call us today at (252) 333-3333 or contact us online to learn more in a free initial consultation.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
Under § 28A-18-2 of the North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS), a wrongful death occurs when a person dies as the result of another party’s negligent or wrongful act or failure to act.
Generally speaking, surviving family members of the deceased have a right to pursue a wrongful death claim if their loved one would have been entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit and claim compensation if they had survived their injuries.
Many fatal incidents can serve as the basis for a wrongful death claim in North Carolina, including:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Accidents on dangerous premises
- Unsafe product injuries
- Workplace accidents
- Dog bite attacks
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse
- Intentional acts of violence
It’s worth noting that a wrongful death case is a civil case and is distinct from a criminal homicide case in several ways. When Guilford County prosecutors file criminal charges, they typically seek penalties such as fines and jail time for the accused.
A wrongful death lawsuit seeks financial compensation on behalf of the victims.
Wrongful death cases also differ from criminal prosecutions because you only need to demonstrate the defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence. This means it’s only necessary to prove it’s more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for your loved one’s wrongful death.
Prosecutors must prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a homicide case, which is a higher standard of proof.
In some cases, a fatal incident may result in both criminal charges and a wrongful death claim. In these situations, the outcome of one case does not necessarily affect the outcome of the other.
It’s entirely possible for an at-fault party to avoid a criminal conviction and still owe money to victims who file a wrongful death claim.
North Carolina Wrongful Death Laws
NGCS § 1-53 imposes a strict limit on the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in North Carolina. Under the law, all wrongful death claims must be filed within two years.
If surviving family members wait too long to file, the court will likely refuse to hear the case. The two-year time limit is measured from the date of the victim’s death, which is not necessarily the same as the date of the incident that caused their fatal injuries.
This distinction can be important if a victim sustains fatal injuries but clings to life for months before dying from the injuries.
Two or three years may sound like plenty of time to take legal action, but the time can go by quickly. When you factor in the time it could take to grieve your loved one’s death, seek out a lawyer, and establish the basis for your claim, you should realize the need to reach out to an attorney promptly.
It’s in your best interest to work with a knowledgeable Greensboro wrongful death lawyer who can help you determine how much time you have to pursue your claim and ensure everything gets taken care of promptly.
How to Prove a Wrongful Death Claim
The details of every case are different. But regardless of the circumstances, the plaintiffs must demonstrate the existence of four primary elements in a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The defendant had a legal responsibility to avoid harming the victim. This could mean a motorist’s responsibility to obey traffic laws and avoid causing accidents, a medical provider’s duty to meet a certain standard of care in delivering treatment, or a property owner’s responsibility to keep their premises reasonably safe for legal visitors and to warn of hazards.
- The defendant neglected to uphold their legal responsibility. This violation of their legal responsibility would occur, for example, if a reckless driver causes a fatal traffic accident by running a red light or a negligent physician operates on the wrong body part or performs the wrong surgery on a patient.
- The defendant’s negligence directly contributed to the victim’s death. You must be able to prove that the defendant’s negligent or reckless act or omission was a direct contributing factor in your loved one’s untimely death.
- The victim and their surviving loved ones suffered measurable losses as a result of the wrongful death. Finally, you must demonstrate that your deceased loved one and their surviving family members suffered real, measurable losses due to the wrongful death. These types of losses could include the pain and suffering your loved one endured before they died, any medical expenses incurred before your loved one’s death, and the loss of the deceased’s earnings and other contributions to your family.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In North Carolina, only a personal representative of the deceased’s estate is entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. In many cases, the personal representative is the executor of the deceased’s estate. A surviving spouse, parents, and adult children are common choices to serve as a personal representative.
An executor is a person named in someone’s will to manage their affairs after they die. However, not everyone leaves behind a valid will. Not all executors are willing or able to carry out their duties.
If a person dies without a valid will or if their chosen executor cannot serve, the court will appoint someone to act as executor. Regardless of how the personal representative is chosen, he or she must obtain court approval before carrying out the duties, even if they were specifically requested by the deceased.
Although the personal representative is the only one with the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit, he or she is not necessarily entitled to any of the compensation awarded for their claim. If the personal representative obtains compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit, they must distribute the funds in the following order:
- First priority – Paying off creditors and any outstanding expenses of the estate
- Second priority – Legal expenses and attorney’s fees
- Third priority – Medical, burial, funeral, or crematory expenses
- Fourth priority – Distributing remaining compensation to surviving family members
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
When the personal representative successfully pursues a favorable outcome in a wrongful death lawsuit, the court will order the at-fault party to pay damages to the victim’s estate. “Damages” is a legal term that refers to the compensation paid to the deceased’s estate and surviving loved ones.
Depending on the nature of the wrongful death, any of the following types of damages may be available:
- Medical bills – Medical expenses incurred by the deceased or their family members before death, including expenses related to ambulance rides, hospital stays, visits to doctors, diagnostic tests, and prescription medications.
- Pain and suffering – The subjective cost of the pain and suffering endured by the deceased before their untimely death, as well as the pain and suffering of surviving family members who lost a loved one.
- Funeral and burial expenses – Reasonable expenses related to funeral services, burial services, cremations, or memorials.
- Loss of income – The projected value of the income, wages, and benefits the deceased would have provided throughout their lifetime if they had survived.
- Loss of personal contributions – The subjective value of the personal contribution the deceased would have made to their family if they had survived, such as household services, protection, care, assistance, society, comfort, companionship, advice, and guidance.
- Punitive damages – If the court decides your loved one’s death was the result of a malicious or egregiously reckless act, a judge may award punitive damages. Defendants are ordered to pay punitive damages as punishment for their wrongdoing and as a deterrent against similar behavior in the future.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Greensboro, NC
While no amount of money can make up for the death of someone you love, holding the responsible party accountable and obtaining compensation for your losses can help your family regain financial stability and achieve some sense of closure.
The compassionate and experienced Greensboro wrongful death lawyers of Hardison & Cochran are here to help.
Call us at (252) 333-3333 or fill out our online contact form today to get started with your free initial case review.