When a person is killed in an accident, the victim’s surviving loved ones may be able to sue the individual or business that caused the death. These types of lawsuits are known as “wrongful death lawsuits.” If the plaintiff prevails, he or she can recover financial compensation, which is also referred to as “damages.” In this article, the Charlotte wrongful death lawyers of Dewey, Ramsay & Hunt, P.A. will explain what damages are available for wrongful death in North Carolina, and discuss whether there are any caps or limits on these damages. If you need help filing a wrongful death claim in North Carolina, our firm is here to provide support.
NC Wrongful Death Damages: Settlements and Compensation
Wrongful death damages are controlled by state laws, which vary widely from location to location. In North Carolina, the applicable law is G.S. § 28A-18-2 (death by wrongful act of another; recovery not assets). This law determines what damages are available in a wrongful death case.
Under G.S. § 28A-18-2(a), the statute states that damages may be recoverable in cases where someone’s death “is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another,” which is the basic legal definition of wrongful death in North Carolina. The following section of the statute, G.S. § 28A-18-2(b), establishes a list of six different damages that may be possible to recover in a wrongful death claim. These six types of damages are as follows:
- Compensation for the decedent’s medical bills prior to death. Depending on what sort of treatment the decedent received, this could include compensation for hospitalization, surgical procedures, medication, medical devices and equipment, or other costs associated with care.
- Compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering before death. “Pain and suffering” is a common term in wrongful death and personal injury cases, and can refer to both physical and emotional or mental pain.
- Compensation for the decedent’s funeral expenses. The statute specifies that only “reasonable” expenses will be covered, and notes that burial, medical, and hospital expenses must be approved by a court clerk. For residents of Charlotte, this would be the Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court.
- Compensation for the loss of the decedent’s assistance, care, comfort, companionship, guidance, protection, income, and services – in short, the loss of the relationship, as well as the decedent’s financial contributions to the household.
So far, all of the damages we’ve reviewed have been “compensatory,” which means they are purely intended to compensate the survivors. The last two types of damages belong in other categories.
- In some cases, “punitive” damages are available. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are intended as a punishment for the defendant. Punitive damages are only available if the defendant either:
- Deliberately caused harm
- Caused harm by acting in a careless, risky way without regard for the safety of others
- In some cases, “nominal” damages are available. However, nominal damages are seldom discussed in depth, as they are only awarded in cases where the victim did not suffer financial losses and tend to be extremely low in value. Nominal damages serve more of a symbolic rather than a practical purpose.
There are two ways to recover compensation in a wrongful death case: reaching a settlement agreement outside of court, or going to trial to litigate the case before a judge and jury. Both strategies have potential pros and cons, depending on the situation. Settling is generally faster and simpler, but the negotiations may falter if the defendant denies liability or refuses to make a reasonable offer. Conversely, litigation tends to be more a complicated and time-consuming approach, but may be the only way to resolve the claim and obtain compensation if the defendant refuses to settle.
Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death Damages in NC?
Some states place limits called “damages caps” on the amount of compensation that is available in certain personal injury or wrongful death cases. For example, many states – North Carolina included – place caps on “non-economic” (non-financial) damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. However, it is important to emphasize that these caps:
- Only apply in medical malpractice cases. There are no caps for wrongful death caused by a traumatic brain injury, slip and fall accident, truck accident, or motorcycle accident in North Carolina.
- Do not affect compensation for “economic” damages. Economic damages means compensation for medical bills, funeral costs, and other expenses or financial losses.
Otherwise, North Carolina does not impose limits on the damages in wrongful death lawsuits. The amount of compensation that can be recovered depends on factors like the decedent’s age, health, and earning ability, whether the decedent was supporting dependents, and the worth of the decedent’s benefits, such as insurance coverage or retirement plans.
Charlotte Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Fight for Your Family
No legal action can ever take back or make up for the loss of a loved one. However, you should be advised that you may have a right to be compensated for funeral expenses, medical care, and other losses that your family has suffered. Our car accident wrongful death attorneys can help you determine whether you have a claim, and what steps you should take to proceed.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit gives you an opportunity to protect your family from the financial hardships that so often result from an unexpected death. It also gives you the opportunity to hold the responsible person accountable, and get the closure you need to begin the healing process in earnest. The Charlotte personal injury lawyers of Dewey, Ramsay & Hunt, P.A. are here to help you through the process. To talk about your family’s legal options in a free legal consultation, contact us online, or call (704) 377-3737.