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If you have lost a loved one to a serious accident, financial compensation may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, depending on the circumstances of the incident, your family may qualify for legal damages that cover medical bills, lost future wages, loss of companionship and other costs associated with the tragic occurrence.

Read on for answers to the most common questions about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in North Carolina.

What qualifies as a wrongful death claim?

Family members can file a lawsuit if negligent actions by a third party caused their loved one’s death. Negligence occurs when a party had a legal duty to complete or refrain from certain actions and a breach of this duty directly caused the events that injured or killed another person. North Carolina recognizes contributory negligence, which means that the injured person could share responsibility for the incident. Common types of wrongful death lawsuits include medical malpractice, product liability, motor vehicle and premises liability claims.

What types of damages can the family recover?

North Carolina allows loved ones to receive financial compensation for the following:

  • Medical care and hospitalization associated with the fatal injury
  • Funeral expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Their family member’s projected net income
  • Loss of care, services or assistance performed by the loved one, such as parenting
  • Loss of companionship

The court may also award punitive damages if the responsible party acted willfully or maliciously.

How can I file a wrongful death claim?

A personal representative of the person’s estate must file a wrongful death lawsuit. If he or she did not name a personal representative, the court will appoint an individual to serve in this role (often the person’s surviving spouse, grown children or parents). You must file the lawsuit within two years of the incident or the court will dismiss your claim.

If your lawsuit succeeds, the proceeds first pay the medical expenses, burial expenses and attorney fees. The personal representative distributes the remaining amount among the person’s spouse and children based on the formula established by the state’s Intestate Succession Act.