Losing a loved one in an auto accident is a devastating but all-too-common experience. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, motor vehicle fatalities in North Carolina occur significantly more than the national average.

Families in this difficult situation should be aware of the laws about wrongful death in North Carolina.

Defining wrongful death

When a person dies in an auto accident, the family can sue for wrongful death if another person negligently caused the collision. Drivers have a duty to prevent injury to others on the road, and failure to meet this obligation constitutes negligence. For example, a drunk driving accident that killed a sober driver could result in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Recovering damages

Available wrongful death compensation in North Carolina may include financial damages for loss of the person’s care, services, companionship, parenting, household assistance and projected future net income. The family can also seek damages for pain and suffering, funeral costs and medical expenses resulting from the fatal accident. They can ask for punitive damages in cases where the defendant caused the accident with malicious or willful behavior.

The person’s surviving spouse, grown children or parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit depending on the person’s familial situation. However, if the deceased person named a representative in his or her will, only that person can file a wrongful death claim.

North Carolina law requires families to file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of a fatal auto accident. The state also mandates the distribution of any wrongful death award to specific family members after settling final expenses.