How Do You Prove That It Was A Wrongful Death


pursuing civil justice against the wrongdoer

Losing a loved one because of another person’s negligence or wrongful actions compounds an already terribly painful event. If you have lost a loved one due to another person’s mistake, neglect or even intentional actions, please reach out to a personal injury attorney to examine if you have a potential claim for wrongful death and pursue civil justice against the wrongdoer. The attorneys at Plumides, Romano & Johnson, PC are always available to take the reins and fight to protect families going through this incredibly difficult time. Contact PRJ Law to schedule a free consultation to evaluate your case.


Common types of wrongful death claims

Wrongful death claims commonly emerge from the following situations:

Why do I need an attorney for this type of case?

Wrongful death cases can be very challenging for non-lawyers to try and pursue on their own. Firstly, the time limit for filing a claim is shorter than usual: you have two years after the last action that caused the death to file, as opposed to the three years typical in most personal injury cases. Secondly, in order to file a claim an “estate” must be set up, as the estate is the party to actually file lawsuit. In addition, the way that damages are disbursed in wrongful death cases differs in that they are distributed according to North Carolina’s “intestate succession laws,” which govern the distribution of a deceased person’s belongings if they did not have a will. Confusingly, this will be the case even if the deceased did in fact have a will.

Finally, the opposing party in wrongful death cases can vary wildly and each one requires its own tactics to succeed in pursuing a claim. In car and tractor trailer accidents, the opposing party would be the defendant’s insurance company. In product defect cases, you would go up against the manufacturing corporation. In civil rights wrongful death cases, the opposing party is usually a government body. If the wrongful death was caused by another person’s criminal actions, you would file the claim against that individual person. The same strategies you would use in negotiating or going to trial against an insurance company are different from those used in a medical malpractice or civil rights case. Every case is different. It’s important to have an attorney on your side with experience handling the type of case that fits your situation. 


Who can file a wrongful death claim?

North Carolina law limits who can file a wrongful death lawsuit: it must be either the executor named in the deceased’s will, or someone who qualifies as a personal representative of that person under this state’s succession laws if the person did not have a will. Whichever the case, the court will appoint that person to serve as the administrator of the estate and that will be the party who files suit. If the victim’s personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve as administrator for the case, family can ask the court to appoint someone else as administrator.


How do damages work in wrongful death cases?

Damages, or money awarded in a wrongful death case, do not become part of the victim’s estate. This is so even though the estate is the party to file the suit. For example, if a jury awarded John’s estate $1 million in damages and John had a will giving 100 percent of his property to the ASPCA, that $1 million would not be disbursed to the ASPCA. Rather, it would follow North Carolina’s succession laws as though he did not have a will and would be given first to his spouse, children and then to other close relatives. 

There is no one-size-fits-all rule to intestate succession, but there are rules for every family makeup out there (such as children out of wedlock, if the person has no surviving relatives, and more). Of course, this does not change the fact that John’s other property would be donated to the ASPCA per his instructions in the will.

The types of damages the victim’s family can receive are laid out by law. North Carolina General Statute § 28A-18-2 states that the following can be recovered:

  1. Reasonable funeral expenses;
  2. Expenses for the victim’s hospitalization, care and treatment for the injury that resulted in death;
  3. Payment to compensate for the victim’s pain and suffering prior to death;
  4. The current value of what the victim provided to the beneficiaries, which can include their net income; companionship and comfort; and physical care, protection and assistance; and
  5. Punitive damages, which can apply if the victim’s death was caused by the other person’s egregious, malicious and/or willful acts. These are frequently awarded in wrongful death cases.

How does a suit for wrongful death relate to any criminal case?

Criminal charges are not always filed in wrongful deaths. This is usually the case in medical malpractice and product defect cases. Unfortunately, that is also usually the case in civil rights violation cases. However, it is important to remember that a civil suit for wrongful death is not dependent upon there being a criminal case, or the outcome of that criminal case if there is one.

The most famous example of the relationship, or lack thereof, between a criminal case and civil wrongful death case is that of O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson but found civilly liable for her wrongful death in the amount of $33.5 million in damages. Criminal courts require that a person be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Civil cases, on the other hand, only require a “preponderance” of the evidence, or that it is more than 50 percent likely (i.e. even 50.0001%) that the defendant is liable.

If you think that you might have a claim for wrongful death, contact one of the experienced, compassionate personal injury attorneys at PRJ Law as soon as possible. We will help you evaluate your potential claim and understand your options during this terrible time.