Wrongful Death Lawyer
Losing a loved one is, perhaps, one of the most challenging moments in life. When someone else’s actions cause a loved one’s death, the pain is only made worse knowing that it could have been avoided. While no amount of money could heal the hurt of knowing your loved one is gone, seeking help from an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you begin to recover and rebuild your life financially.
Wrongful death cases can be among the highest stakes personal injury claims because death’s financial and non-economic loss is so substantial. With decades of collective experience and a commitment to client satisfaction, the accident and injury lawyers at Auger & Auger will be with you every step of the way when a tragic death has occurred.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s intentional actions or negligence, we’re here to help you. Call us at (855) 969-5671 or contact us online to speak with an experienced lawyer whose only goal is to help you start recovering from your terrible loss.
What Injuries Lead to Wrongful Death?
Virtually any injury can lead to wrongful death. Even something as simple as a dog bite can cause severe infections, which ultimately become fatal. However, some types of injuries lead to wrongful death more than others. These include:
1. Car Accidents
An estimated 40,000 people lose their lives in car accidents every year. The majority of these accidents are caused by drivers, but some of them are caused by manufacturer’s defects and other serious issues. Drivers are always encouraged to drive safely, which means focusing on the road and leaving your text messages unread until you get to your destination.
2. Truck Accidents
Due to the sheer size of semi-trucks, collisions with these vehicles often result in fatal injuries. In 2017, 4,761 people were killed in accidents involving semi-trucks. Many of these accidents resulted from inexperienced or fatigued drivers, while others were caused by people in passenger vehicles not driving safely around trucks.
3. Motorcycle Accidents
Because motorcycle riders don’t have the protection of doors and other elements found on a car, when bikers are involved in a wreck, they often suffer serious and life-threatening injuries. In 2016, 5,286 motorcyclists were killed on American roads. This was an increase of over 5 percent from the previous year.
4. Dangerous Drugs And Medical Devices
Nearly every person has taken prescription medications at some point or another. It’s estimated that nearly 2,500 people die every week from medicines that are properly prescribed to them. Of course, opioids are fueling the epidemic, with thousands of people dying from overdosing on either prescription painkillers or their illegal counterparts, like heroin.
In one of the largest legal cases involving a drug company in recent history, Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, became the focus of a Department of Justice investigation over their role in the opioid epidemic. In 2020, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, mostly related to how they marketed the drug Oxycontin to healthcare providers and offered kickbacks, even knowing that some physicians were diverting the drug to people struggling with addiction. Part of a proposed settlement includes $750 million in compensation to be paid out to victims and their families. The idea is that because there are so many potential plaintiffs – more than three thousand lawsuits, both public and private, have been filed already – who would have a case against Purdue Pharma, it would be too taxing on the court system to see multiple lawsuits play out. It’s unclear whether the settlement will go through, as it has been challenged in various courts.
It’s important to understand that most dangerous drug claims are not as complex as the Purdue Pharma case. In most of these cases, the key is to establish that the defective drug or device was what led to the death in question. You will also need to show that you used the medication or device as directed and were not warned of possible dangers.
Seeking Compensation After a Wrongful Death in the Carolinas
Both North and South Carolina define wrongful death as a death caused by “a wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another person. In North Carolina, the wrongful death lawsuit is brought forward by a personal representative of the decedent’s (that is, the deceased person’s) estate. That representative may be named in the decedent’s will, or they may be nominated by the court.
The representative may seek damages on behalf of the estate and the surviving family members. Damages the representative may seek include:
- Medical expenses related to the fatal injury. These can be extensive, as it’s common for healthcare providers to use every available resource in an effort to save the life of a seriously injured or ill patient.
- Funeral and burial costs. These can also run into thousands of dollars.
- Pain and suffering the deceased suffered before death. This type of damage is possible if there is evidence that the deceased person survived and was conscious for some period of time before passing.
- Loss of income. In particular, this can be an important consideration if the decedent was the sole or main financial provider for the family.
- Loss of the decedent’s protection, care, guidance, companionship, society, services, assistance, comfort, and advice.
- Punitive damages, if the defendant acted with “malice or willful or wanton conduct.” These are not as common as the other damages listed above, but can happen in situations where the defendant’s actions were especially reckless.
Any compensation is first used to pay for expenses related to the case, including attorneys’ fees and costs, then the payment of any outstanding funeral, burial, or medical bills. Any remaining compensation is distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries.
In South Carolina, wrongful death cases are filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate. If there is no administrator or executor, one will be nominated by the state. The executor files the lawsuit on behalf of the decedent’s surviving family members. Only certain family members can recover damages from a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- The decedent’s spouse and children.
- If there is no spouse or child, the surviving parents can recover damages (unless they abandoned the decedent before the decedent turned 18).
- If there is no spouse, child, or parent, the legal heirs of the decedent can recover damages.
The damages recoverable in a wrongful death case in South Carolina are similar to those recoverable in North Carolina. They include:
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Medical expenses related to the fatal injury.
- Loss of income and benefits.
- Pain and suffering and mental anguish of the surviving family members.
- Property damage and other financial losses related to the decedent’s passing.
- Loss of the decedent’s experience, knowledge, judgment, care, companionship, and protection.
- Exemplary damages if the defendant’s actions were deliberate or reckless.
In North Carolina, the statute of limitations on wrongful death cases is two years from your loved one’s death. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations is three years.
Proving Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case
In North Carolina, there are several important points your attorney will need to argue when pursuing your case:
- The defendant had a duty of care to act in such a way so as not to endanger others. This could mean a duty to drive carefully, a duty to ensure a safe workplace or a safe environment for guests, a duty to market a new drug truthfully and ensure its safety, etc.
- The defendant breached this duty of care to the deceased person/s.
- This breach of duty led to the fatal illness or injury. In court, this may be referred to as the “actual cause” of the death.
- The defendant should have realized their actions could endanger someone like the decedent. This is also known as the “proximate cause.” In other words, you’ll need to show the death wasn’t caused by a “freak accident” situation that no one could have predicted under the circumstances.
- There were actual financial damages as a result of the injury and death. This element is typically easy to prove through medical bills, funeral bills, etc.
Another caveat about North Carolina wrongful death law is that, like other personal injury claims, wrongful death suits in this state are decided using contributory negligence statutes. This means that if the deceased contributed to the accident or situation that caused their death in any way, even if they were as little as one percent at fault, the defendant does not have to pay any damages. As a result, the defendant’s insurance company or attorney will often put considerable effort into painting the deceased as being at fault. Naturally, this can be very frustrating, especially when you are still grieving your loved one’s death. However, an experienced wrongful death attorney has the knowledge to fight these claims and will work to establish that the defendant was solely at fault.
In South Carolina, the elements of establishing negligence in a wrongful death claim are similar to those in North Carolina:
- The defendant had a duty of care to act or not act in a specific way to avoid harming others. This could mean a duty to operate a truck safely, or provide meaningful security in an apartment building, etc.
- This duty was breached because of the defendant’s choices prior to the incident that caused the death.
- The injury or illness that ultimately caused your loved one’s death was a result of this breach of duty.
- The death was clearly caused by the defendant’s negligent actions when they breached this duty.
Unlike North Carolina, South Carolina uses comparative negligence rules in personal injury cases, including wrongful death claims. Under this system, plaintiffs can still recover damages from the defendant if the victim was less than 50 percent at fault. At the same time, the final award will be decreased by the percentage of fault assigned to the victim. For this reason, it is still in the insurance carrier’s or defendant’s best interest to try to blame the victim. Your wrongful death attorney will be familiar with these tactics and have strategies to combat them.
Will You Have to Go to Court for Your Wrongful Death Case?
This is a pressing question for many families who have lost a loved one. Some people tell us that they just couldn’t handle hearing what the defendant’s lawyer might say about their loved one in court. Others don’t want to relive the pain of their loss.
The short answer is that it’s impossible to know for certain before we study the case and begin the negotiation process. That being said, the majority of wrongful death cases do settle out of court, and we make every effort to reach this kind of conclusion. We don’t want you to go through a long and taxing court case if you don’t have to, so we work hard to come to a resolution with the other party’s insurance company. The goal is to achieve a level of compensation that covers your damages and will allow you the financial freedom to rebuild your family’s life.
Ultimately, it will be your decision whether or not you want to accept an offer made by the insurance company. We can advise you on whether it’s enough to cover your damages, or the likelihood that you might receive more in a trial, but we can’t make the decision for you. We will explain the offer to you, including any caveats the other party has included, such as requiring you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Then we’ll answer any questions you have so that you have the information you need to choose. If you don’t want to accept the offer, we can talk about what amount and terms you would be willing to accept. After that, we will restart negotiations and attempt to establish a better deal.
In most situations, we eventually work out an arrangement that both sides find acceptable. However, there are a few cases where the other party’s insurance company simply doesn’t want to reach a reasonable agreement. They may believe their case is stronger than it is, or they may not want to encourage other lawsuits by paying out a certain amount in yours. In any event, if they won’t agree to a fair settlement, going to court may be the only option left for seeking compensation. If this is the case, we will work tirelessly to prove your case in court. This may include:
- Presenting police reports and other documents as evidence. Your attorney may point to specific pieces of the text as evidence of one or more of the elements listed above. They may also use the documents when questioning witnesses.
- Using video or photographic evidence, if possible, to show what happened. If traffic cameras are not available, we will seek out other people who might have recorded the incident, including those with smartphones or even doorbell camera setups.
- Going over medical records to explain how injuries happened that led to the death. Medial experts may also be called as witnesses to help explain the meaning of these health records. In this case, the main goal is to demonstrate that the injuries caused by the defendant are definitely the cause of death.
- Taking testimony from witnesses. In some cases, our investigators are able to find additional witnesses missed by an initial police canvas of the area. They may be able to shed more light on what happened.
- Financial documents like tax records or pay stubs. These will be used to show the decedent’s earning capacity before they passed.
- Sometimes evidence of previous issues or negligence on the defendant’s part may also come up. This could come in the form of witness testimony, documents, videos, etc.
How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help You Through This Difficult Time
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s actions or negligence, there’s no doubt you are sad, stressed, and perhaps confused about what happens next. At Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers, our goal is to take as much of that load as possible off your shoulders so you can be with your family during this time.
After your free consultation, we will do what we can to keep you involved in the legal proceedings as much or as little as you want. Let us worry about the paperwork, talking to experts and witnesses, and negotiating with the insurance companies on your behalf. We have been helping wrongful death victims get the compensation they deserve for over 26 years, and we know what it takes to win your case.
You won’t owe us a dime unless we win your case. Call us at (855) 969-5671 or contact us online for a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced wrongful death attorney. Our legal team is always here to take your call.