Nothing causes more emotional pain and heartbreak than losing a loved one. The experience is even more dreadful when the death is caused by someone else’s negligence or intentional behavior. If an individual, entity, or organization is legally responsible for another person’s death because of their negligent or intentional actions, that’s known as wrongful death.
A knowledgeable Winston Salem wrongful death lawyer is one of the best resources to understand the wrongful death claim process. This piece covers more information about wrongful death, including its meaning, people qualified to file a wrongful death claim, things that qualify as wrongful death, how to start a wrongful death claim, and more.
The loss of a loved one is not easy and no compensation can make up for your loss. At McIver Law Firm, we understand that this is a difficult time. We want to assist you with the help you need and the compensation you deserve to ease any of the financial burdens that have come as a result of someone else’s negligence.
How is Wrongful Death Defined in North Carolina?
According to North Carolina Law, wrongful death is caused by neglect, wrongful act, or default of another party that would have otherwise entitled the victim to a personal injury claim had s/he survived.
Actions leading to wrongful death include car accidents, product defects, medical malpractice, and criminal activities. Wrongful death laws aim to make the individual(s) responsible for the demise of the deceased accountable and also provide compensation to the family members left behind.
Who is Qualified to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Eligibility to file a wrongful death claim may vary depending on the state or jurisdiction, but here are the parties with the right to do so:
The surviving spouse of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim. Whether the couple was legally married or had a domestic partnership, eligibility remains. If the claim is successful, the spouse or partner will be compensated for the loss of companionship, financial support, as well as the emotional pain caused.
The other person with a right to initiate a wrongful death claim is the personal representative of the deceased or the victim’s estate executor. Sometimes, the individual is designated in the will; however, if there’s none, the court can appoint one. Primarily, the representative represents the surviving family members.
Children of the Deceased Person
Children of the deceased, who are either biological, step, or adopted children, can file a wrongful death claim. They may seek compensation for the loss of parental support, guidance and the emotional impact of the incident.
Parents of the deceased may also qualify to file a claim. The parents are especially eligible if their child depends on them financially and is a minor.
In some cases, relatives who depended on the deceased financially can file a wrongful death claim. Such individuals can include siblings, grandparents, and other close relatives. It’s important to note that the law may require a few things while filing a wrongful death claim.
For example, a personal representative may have to seek consent from eligible family members. On the other hand, if various people are eligible to file a claim, they may have to agree or collaborate when distributing the compensation offered.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death?
When a person’s intentional, negligent, or reckless actions lead to another individual’s death, that’s wrongful death. The following are incidents that may qualify as wrongful death:
Car accidents can cause wrongful deaths because of the negligence or poor actions of the people involved. If it’s established that a car accident leading to death is directly related to someone else’s negligible behavior, that qualifies for a wrongful death claim.
Here are actions that may cause accidents resulting in wrongful death.
- Reckless Driving – Reckless driving behaviors like drunk driving, speeding, or distracted driving (using phones) can lead to fatal car accidents. The relevant parties can pursue a wrongful death claim if an accident is attributed to the driver’s negligent actions.
- Defective Vehicles – Defective cars or faulty vehicle parts can sometimes cause accidents that lead to death. People like car distributors or manufacturers can be held responsible in such cases.
- Employer Liability – Employees can cause fatal road accidents at work, and sometimes the employer may have to bear responsibility for these actions.
- Negligence from the Government – The government is tasked with constructing and maintaining roads. If accidents occur because of poorly designed roads or lack of road signs, the government can be liable for any loss of life.
For a successful claim, an individual must prove that the car accident resulted from negligible behavior and that the actions directly caused the victim’s death.
Boating accidents can also be tragic and lead to death. Below are negligible actions that can cause accidents and wrongful deaths.
- Operator Negligence – Negligible operators can cause boat accidents leading to fatal deaths. Examples of negligible behavior include operating boats under the influence, speeding, or disregarding navigation rules.
- Boat Defects – Like cars, boats may have defects during design or manufacturing, leading to malfunctions while in use. If a defective boat causes an accident leading to death, the manufacturer may be held responsible.
- Lack of/or Inadequate Safety Equipment – Operating vessels without the necessary safety equipment, like life jackets and navigation lights, can lead to accidents. If this leads to death, the responsible individuals can be liable for wrongful death.
- Inadequate Education/Training – Boating accidents can be attributed to a lack of proper education. Untrained and inexperienced operators may cause accidents leading to deaths. Such cases may also qualify for wrongful death lawsuits.
If there’s a boat accident leading to the death of a loved one, concerned individuals should assess the circumstances of the accident to determine if it was a wrongful death and pursue justice.
An employee may lose their life due to an accident at the workplace. Injuries at work leading to wrongful deaths can directly result from poor working conditions or negligence from another party.
Here’s more on wrongful deaths at the workplace.
- Poor Working Conditions – Unsafe working conditions, like the lack of protective equipment, can cause workplace fatalities. Employers may be held responsible for failing to provide safe environments for their employees.
- Occupational Illnesses – Exposure to toxic chemicals and substances can lead to the death of an employee. A wrongful death claim can also be pursued in such cases.
- Defective Equipment -Malfunctioning equipment and machinery can cause fatal accidents at the workplace. The manufacturer or designer may be held accountable if the accident occurred because of a faulty design.
- Third-Party Negligence – Third parties like contractors can cause accidents leading to wrongful deaths.
While it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, other parties can be held responsible for workplace accidents that cause deaths.
Using unsafe or faulty consumer goods can cause cases of wrongful death in the following ways.
- Defective Designs – Flawed designs may render products like electronic devices unsafe for use. If a consumer uses such an item leading to their death, the manufacturer can be liable for wrongful death.
- Medical Devices – Defective medical devices or drugs may lead to wrongful deaths. Parties like manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies who fail to test the devices or disclose the side effects of using various medicines may have to cover the damages caused by their products.
- Inadequate Instructions and Guidelines – Some products require instructions to operate, and users can harm themselves if these guidelines are missing or inadequate. Manufacturers selling products lacking warning labels or clear instructions may be held liable in case of wrongful deaths.
If surviving family members or related parties demonstrate that defective products caused the death of a loved one, they can be compensated for the loss.
Medical Malpractice or Negligence
When healthcare providers’ incompetence, negligence, or errors lead to a patient’s death, affected parties have a right to file for wrongful death claims. Some of the actions by healthcare professionals that can cause wrongful deaths include:
- Surgical Errors – Although surgical procedures carry risks, sometimes health experts may make preventable errors during an operation, which leads to death. Such mistakes include leaving surgical equipment in the patient’s body or operating on the wrong site.
- Diagnostic Errors – Patients can die from misdiagnosis or when a diagnosis is delayed. Such can lead to late or wrong treatment contributing to wrongful death. A wrongful death claim should be pursued if it happens.
- Medication Errors – Giving wrong dosages or incorrect medication can lead to fatal outcomes. Responsible healthcare providers can be held accountable if a wrongful death results from medication errors.
- Failure to Offer Proper Treatment – Doctors and other medical experts must provide their patients with the proper treatment and care. If they fail to diagnose, monitor or treat an ill individual, and it leads to death, they can face legal consequences.
Other medical negligence or malpractice cases that can cause wrongful death include anesthesia errors and injuries during childbirth.
Can a Surviving Family Member File for Punitive Damages?
Surviving family members may pursue punitive damages for the wrongful death of a loved one. Punitive damages are awarded on top of compensatory damages to punish the defendant for their appallingly lousy conduct and prevent such behavior. Victims must, however, present substantial evidence to show malicious intent to harm, intentional behavior, or gross misconduct.
Because punitive damages are not necessarily meant to compensate the surviving family members but to punish the accused, the amount awarded is determined by factors like the severity of the conduct and financial capability.
How is Negligence Proven in a Wrongful Death Case?
Proving that there was negligence in a wrongful death case requires a person to show that the defendant had a duty of care towards the victim and, through their actions or failure to act, breached it, directly caused the deceased person’s death.
One must demonstrate the following elements to prove negligence:
Duty of Care
It must be determined that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. A duty of care usually arises from professional relationships or unique circumstances, like when drivers must drive properly for the safety of passengers and healthcare professionals must look after patients.
Breach of Duty of Care
For a successful claim, it must be demonstrated that the defendant failed to behave accordingly or acted negligently, which caused them to breach their duty of care.
Here’s where it’s established that the victim’s death is directly related to the defendant’s breach of duty. It must demonstrate how the defendant’s behavior led to the deceased person’s demise. For instance, one can show that the victim would have survived had it not been for negligence.
Finally, it must be shown that the victim’s demise caused losses and damages to the surviving members. The damages can include emotional distress, financial losses, and loss of companionship.
How Do You Start a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina?
Individuals willing to start a wrongful death claim should typically follow these steps:
Building a Case
Building a solid case is essential for a successful wrongful death claim. It requires proper preparation and careful attention to detail. The things involved in the process include:
- Gathering Evidence: Individuals must collect all evidence of the incident leading to the wrongful death. It can include photographs, accident reports, or medical records that support the claim.
- Establishing Negligence: One must prove that the defendant had a duty of care towards the victim, breached it, and that led to death.
- Determining Damages: The responsible parties should calculate and document the damage suffered by the surviving members because of the wrongful death. It can include medical expenses and other economic or non-economic damages like suffering and emotional distress.
- Consult a Lawyer: Working with a qualified and experienced attorney like us is crucial while handling wrongful death cases. They offer advice, guidance, and support to navigate the legal process.
Every wrongful death case is usually unique, meaning individuals must build their case based on the prevailing circumstances. The good thing is that everything will flow smoothly with the help of an attorney.
The attorney behind negotiations after building a case. Parties involved in the negotiations can include the victims or the insurance company. These talks aim to reach a fair settlement. Filing a lawsuit is usually the next step whenever the parties can’t agree on a favorable settlement.
Preparing for Trial
Preparation is vital in a wrongful death case; these are ways a person can prepare for the event:
- Consulting and working closely with the attorney
- Organizing the acquired evidence
- Identifying witnesses to be part of the trial
- Preparing the witnesses
- Formulating a strategy for the trial, e.g., identifying arguments and planning the sequence of presenting evidence.
Lastly is to rehearse for the case, which involves practicing the testimony and educating oneself about answering questions.
The legal dispute is presented to the jury, and parties can make their arguments. Witnesses will also be allowed to make their testimony. Various procedures may vary depending on the case; however, a wrongful death lawyer will guide you whenever necessary.
What Types of Evidence Can Be Useful in a Wrongful Death Suit?
Surviving family members must present enough evidence to support their claims in a wrongful death suit. Such evidence includes:
The death certificate is crucial because it serves as an official record of the deceased person’s death. The concerned parties should carry it with them during the case hearing.
Deceased Medical Records
Medical records help establish the victim’s medical condition, the kind of treatment they received (if any), and potential cases of medical negligence.
Police and Autopsy Reports
These documents help to illustrate the cause and manner of death. They offer insight into the injuries and medical conditions causing death, helping establish a link between the defendant’s actions and the outcome.
Physical evidence includes photographs of the accident scene and the defective product if that led to the wrongful death.
Financial documents are necessary to show the damages and financial losses the surviving family members suffered. These may include financial statements, employment records, among others.
What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and an Estate Claim?
A wrongful death claim is filed by surviving family members or beneficiaries after the deceased’s wrongful death. The primary objective is to seek compensation for the losses the individual suffers. These can include financial losses, emotional suffering, and loss of companionship.
On the other hand, an estate claim is filed on behalf of the victim’s estate on the grounds that the deceased could pursue a personal injury claim if they survived. The claim seeks to provide compensation for the damage suffered by the victim before death. Such can include medical expenses, lost wages, and other suffering.
Call Our Winston Salem Wrongful Death Lawyer Today and Schedule a Free Case Review
The wrongful death of a loved one is painful and damaging to the individuals affected. Victims can, however, file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for losses suffered with the help of experienced and knowledgeable Winston Salem wrongful death lawyers.
Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience in law and personal injury cases. McIver Law Firm can provide you with assistance with wrongful death cases. Call us today 336-727-9886 to schedule a free consultation.