Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit In North Carolina?

There is nothing more emotionally devastating or heartbreaking than losing a loved one in a fatal accident. It is even more difficult to deal with when you learn that the accident could have been prevented with the requisite safety precautions. A wrongful death claim allows grieving loved ones to hold the at-fault party legally responsible for an accident. 

Unfortunately, not everyone who was close to the victim has the right to file a wrongful death claim under North Carolina law. The claim must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased on behalf of the heirs. In this article, our North Carolina wrongful death attorney explains the key things to know about who can file a wrongful death claim. 

North Carolina Law: What is a Wrongful Death?

As a starting point, it is important to understand what constitutes a wrongful death. Under North Carolina law (NC GS § 28A-18-2), wrongful death is a death that was caused by a “wrongful act, neglect or default.” In other words, wrongful death is a death caused by carelessness, recklessness, or negligent act of another party. Wrongful deaths can occur in many different circumstances, including: 

  • Car accidents
  • Pedestrian collisions
  • Bike accidents
  • Commercial trucking accidents
  • Fall accidents
  • Construction site accidents
  • Dangerous and defective products
  • Medical malpractice

A Wrongful Death Claim Must Be Filed By the Personal Representative

In some states, surviving family members of the victim can file a wrongful death claim directly. However, the process is different in North Carolina. Under state law, a wrongful action must be initiated by the personal representative of the victim’s estate. Who will serve as the personal representative depends on the specific circumstances of the case. 

If the victim died with a will, then the personal representative will generally be the executor appointed in the will. If there is no will or other estate planning documents in place, then a court will name a personal representative for the deceased. The representative may be the victim’s surviving spouse, an adult child, or another close family member. 

Wrongful Death Claims are Filed for the Benefit of the Closest Relatives 

The personal representative is responsible for initiating a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the closest relatives of the victim. Indeed, in North Carolina, wrongful death proceeds are distributed based on the state’s intestate succession laws. They do not technically become part of the probate process. 

A wrongful death claim is designed to compensate surviving family members for their losses. Who has a right to obtain compensation through a wrongful death claim in North Carolina depends on where they are in the line of intestate succession. Compensation may be available for: 

  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving children, including adult children
  • Surviving parents
  • The closest living heir

Sorting out who has the rights under North Carolina’s wrongful death statute can be especially complicated. It is important to consult with an experienced North Carolina wrongful death lawyer who will help you navigate the complexities of the case. A North Carolina wrongful death attorney will help you understand your rights and take action to protect your best interests. 

You Have a Limited Amount of Time to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in North Carolina

Wrongful death cases are subject to a strict statute of limitations. In North Carolina, a wrongful death claim must be initiated within two years of the date of the victim’s death (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-53). If a legal claim is not properly filed in a timely manner, then the case could potentially be dismissed without a full hearing on the merits. 

The personal representative is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim before the statute of limitations has expired. If no one has been appointed as the personal representative, a surviving family member who has rights under the North Carolina wrongful death statute can take action to get themselves appointed as the personal representative to bring the claim. A lawyer can help. 

Call Our North Carolina Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

At Green Mistretta Law, our wrongful death attorneys are experienced, compassionate, aggressive, and dedicated to providing results-focused representation. If your loved one was killed due to the negligence of another party, we are here to help. During these distressing times, you do not have to take on the legal burdens alone.

Contact our North Carolina wrongful death lawyers today to arrange a free strictly confidential initial legal consultation. With a law office in Wake Forest, we handle wrongful death claims in Raleigh and throughout the State of North Carolina.