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What is the Most You Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

When a loved one dies due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, surviving family members may pursue a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for the lost life, and for the lost financial contributions of the decedent.  While no amount of money can ever replace a life or a loved one, the frank truth is that North Carolina’s wrongful death statutes are in place for an important reason – surviving family members need financial help after a fatal accident caused by another’s careless acts.  The amount you can sue for in a wrongful death case varies greatly depending on several factors.   In North Carolina, litigants who file civil actions can only state in the public filings that damages are being sought in excess of $10,000.00.  However, in settlement talks or at trial, we can ask for any amount of money.  It’s up to the jury to determine the verdict amount, and their truly is no ceiling on how much they can grant to the surviving family members.  Here’s an in-depth look at what influences wrongful death settlements and why there’s no definitive “average” amount:

Factors Influencing Wrongful Death Settlements

Income and Earning Potential of the Deceased

One of the primary factors in determining the settlement amount or potential verdict range is the deceased person’s income and future earning potential.  Under the Wrongful Death Act in North Carolina, the wrongful death claim belongs to the legal heirs who are entitled to inherit from the decedent under the NC intestacy laws.  In most cases, this is the surviving spouse and children of the victim, while sometimes parents or siblings have a right to share in wrongful death case proceeds as well.  Courts and insurance companies consider what the deceased would have likely earned over their lifetime, including raises and promotions, to estimate the financial impact on the family.  A North Carolina wrongful death lawyer will look carefully at past earnings of the decedent, potential raises and promotions that could have been earned, and all future earning potential.  This step helps to maximize the wrongful death settlement.

Severity of Negligence or Wrongdoing

The extent of negligence or wrongful conduct leading to death plays a significant role. Cases involving gross negligence or intentional misconduct often result in higher settlements and trial verdicts as a means to hold the responsible party accountable to the family, and to deter similar actions in the future.

Emotional Suffering of Surviving Family Members

Compensation for emotional suffering and loss of companionship is also considered. The emotional toll on the surviving family members, including loss of guidance, love, and support, can substantially influence the settlement amount.   Wrongful death claims should always include anecdotal evidence showing the quality of the relationship between the decedent and surviving family members, and to help insurance adjusters and/or jurors understand the gravity of the family’s loss.

State-Specific Laws

Each state has its own laws governing wrongful death claims, which can impact the types of damages available and the overall settlement amount. Some states may impose caps on non-economic damages, while others allow unlimited recovery.  In North Carolina, our Wrongful Death Act outlines all of the laws relating to how to present a wrongful death claim, who can collect, what elements of damages can be presented, and shows that there is a two year statute of limitations for Wrongful Death lawsuits in our state.  The Wrongful Death Act is found at NCGS Chapter 28A Article 18.

Bicycle-Involved Auto Accidents

Typical Range of Wrongful Death Settlements

Wrongful death settlements can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. The unique facts and circumstances of each case make it challenging to predict exact amounts. For example, settlements can vary significantly based on the severity of the incident, the deceased’s age and health, the decedents career and earning potential, and the age and financial needs of the surviving family members.


Why There’s No Average Settlement Amount

Unique Case Circumstances

Every wrongful death case is unique, with specific details that affect the outcome. Factors such as the nature of the accident, the quality and compelling nature of all evidence presented, the extent of pre-death suffering endured by the decedent, the age of the decedent’s heirs and dependents, and the credibility of witnesses all contribute to the quality and amount of the final settlement or trial verdict.

Unpredictability of Trials

Trials add an element of unpredictability to wrongful death cases. Juries may award significantly different amounts based on their perception of the case, the effectiveness of the legal arguments, their sympathy for the decedent and their family, the own life’s experiences, and their understanding and interpretation of the law.

Importance of Legal Representation

Consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney is crucial to maximize the value of your case.   Surviving family members should understand all of their legal rights and options before they start cooperating with insurance claims adjusters who are being paid to minimize the Wrongful Death case.  Skilled attorneys can navigate the complexities of the legal system, gather compelling evidence, and negotiate effectively with insurance companies.


Common Misconceptions: Wrongful Death Settlement Calculators

Online wrongful death settlement calculators often provide inaccurate estimates. These tools cannot account for the unique details of each case, such as specific state laws, the quality of evidence, and the emotional impact on the family. It’s essential to consult a knowledgeable attorney to get a more accurate assessment of your case.

Examples of Wrongful Death Settlements

While no two cases are alike, here are some examples of wrongful death settlements to illustrate the potential range:

  • $13.6 million jury verdict for wrongful death of a spouse
  • $11.7 million award for a traffic wrongful death case
  • $10.6 million settlement for a death caused by a defective product
  • $10.8 million for a wrongful death caused by defective tires
  • $4.5 million for a wrongful death caused by a car accident
  • $4 million verdict for the wrongful death of a child

These examples demonstrate the significant variations in settlement amounts based on the case’s specifics.

wrongful death case

Factors That Might Reduce Your Settlement

Contributory Negligence

North Carolina follows the law of pure contributory negligence.  Under this law, if the accident victim is just slightly at fault for causing their own accident or injuries, they have no claims and no right of compensation.  There are small exceptions, but the sad truth is that in North Carolina, if the decedent was just 1% at fault for causing the fatal accident, the surviving family has no claims and receives no compensation.  This is a critical reason to investigate serious and fatal accidents early and properly, and to collect and preserve all evidence which shows that the decedent was not to blame for the accident that resulted in fatal injury.  In most states, the applicable negligence law is called comparative negligence.  In these states, if the deceased person contributed to the accident, the settlement amount might be reduced. For instance, if the deceased was 30%y at fault, the compensation could be adjusted so that he responsible parties can only be held responsible to pay 70% of the total amount of all wrongful death damages.

Statute of Limitations

Each state has a statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims. Failing to file within this period can result in losing the right to seek compensation.  In North Carolina, the suit filing deadline in a wrongful death case is two years from the date of the fatal accident.

Lack of Experienced Legal Representation

Hiring an inexperienced attorney or attempting to handle the case without legal assistance can significantly reduce the potential settlement amount. Skilled and aggressive legal representation is vital to navigate the complexities and maximize compensation.


Tax Implications of Wrongful Death Settlements

The taxability of wrongful death settlements varies depending on the type of damages awarded and state-specific tax laws. It’s important to consult with a tax professional or attorney to understand the tax implications of your settlement.


Why Consult an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

Consulting an experienced wrongful death attorney is essential to ensure you receive fair compensation. Attorneys can provide invaluable guidance, support, and representation, helping you navigate the legal process and fight for justice.


Contact Us

If you have a wrongful death case, let our experienced team review your case for free. At Nagle & Associates, we have a proven track record of success in handling wrongful death cases.

We understand the emotional and financial toll these cases take on families and are committed to providing compassionate and effective legal representation to help you get the compensation your family deserves.