Wrongful Death Claims in North Carolina

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When someone is injured by the negligence of another, the injured party may have a legal claim against the at-fault party under North Carolina law. When incidents result in the death of the injured party, the family or other legal representative of the deceased has a potential wrongful death claim under North Carolina law. 

North Carolina’s Wrongful Death Statute (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2)

Section 28A-18-2 of the North Carolina General Statutes authorizes the filing of wrongful death claims in North Carolina. A wrongful death claim exists when “the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another.”  Under Section 28A-18-2, the wrongful death action must be brought by the “personal representative” of the deceased, who typically is the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate.

The potential damages that can be recovered in a North Carolina wrongful death case also are controlled by Section 28A-18-2, which specifically lists the following types of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering;
  • Funeral expenses incurred on behalf of the deceased;
  • The loss to the deceased’s family resulting from the untimely death, including:
    • The monetary value of the loss of the net income the deceased would have earned;
    • The monetary value of the loss of the services, protection, care, and assistance the deceased would have provided;
    • The monetary value of the loss of the deceased’s society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice; and,
    • Punitive damages, if applicable.

When damages are awarded, they are distributed according to the North Carolina Intestate Succession Act, or, in other words, according to North Carolina’s default rules that apply when a person dies without a Will. Each circumstance is different, and a wrongful death attorney can help the family of a deceased individual understand this process. 

Can Another Party Be Held Liable?

An at fault party must be determined to be legally at fault before that party (or that party’s applicable insurer) is required to pay any damages for the wrongful death of another. In most cases, the analysis turns on whether the other party was negligent, which has been defined by caselaw and statutes.

In North Carolina, negligence defined as a failure to act with “reasonable care.” When a party fails to act with reasonable care, and that party’s actions cause the death of another, the “at-fault” party can be liable for wrongful death damages unless a legal defense applies. 

There are several potential legal defenses that can apply in a wrongful death case. For example, North Carolina is one of only a few states that continue to recognize the doctrine of “contributory negligence.” Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if the deceased is contributed in the slightest, even 1% manner, the deceased’s family may not be able to recover at all under a wrongful death actions. It is common for a defense carrier or its attorneys at allege contributory negligence to try to escape liability. There are exceptions to this rule, such as the doctrine of “last clear chance,” or possibly where the other party is “grossly negligent,” but those exceptions do not apply to the majority of cases.

Another potential defense is the statute of limitations. If a wrongful death action is not brought within the specific amount of time required by the applicable statute of limitations, it is legally barred forever. It is important to note that the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in North Carolina is only two years from the date of the accident, not the typical three years for most other injury claims.  


The loss of a loved one is heartbreaking. No legal action can bring that person back. However, when another party is responsible for the death, North Carolina provides a legal cause of action under its wrongful death statute to assist families with seeking justice and financial recovery.

While money can never replace the person lost, North Carolina allows recovery for financial compensation for the medical and funeral expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses resulting from the death cause by negligence or intentional bad acts. In many cases, this money can be used to pay expenses, and to financially support loved ones left behind.

As with other personal injury cases, the best course of action is to contact a skilled wrongful death attorney who can assist with a potential wrongful death case. That attorney can help with the claim process and navigate the legal intricacies of wrongful death claims in North Carolina.