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Wrongful Death Claims in North Carolina

This paper provides information on Wrongful Death Claims in North Carolina and answers many common questions that are often asked about this statutory claim.


What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under North Carolina law, a wrongful death claim exists when the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or fault of another, such that if the injured person had lived, he or she would have had the right to sue for his or her own personal injuries. The basic purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to put the legal beneficiaries of the deceased person in the same position financially that they would have been had the victim not died.

Although a human life can never be replaced, the often-devastating financial consequences caused by the loss of a loved one and provider can be reduced. A recovery under the Wrongful Death Act can provide financial security, preserve the family home, and ensure the college education of the survivors. In some cases, a wrongful death lawsuit can vindicate the death of an individual and help bring closure to the survivors’ loss. And in some cases, a wrongful death lawsuit can punish a seriously negligent defendant, change behavior, and establish new laws and standards so that a needless tragedy will not be repeated. In these cases, the survivors can take comfort that their loved one had a larger purpose in life and did not die in vain.

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What is required to establish a Wrongful Death Claim?
The classic elements required to prove a case alleging simple negligence are: Duty, Breach of Duty, Causation and Damages. The plaintiff always has the burden of proof or persuasion.

Because wrongful death claims are based on statutory law, the claim must be in conformity with the requirements of the Act, codified in North Carolina as General Statute §28A-18-2. The elements of a wrongful death claim include the classic elements of a negligence case, plus the element proving that there are legal beneficiaries entitled to share in any recovery.

In North Carolina, the basis for liability in a wrongful death claim is that the defendant’s conduct, act or omission was tortious, meaning wro