North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Punitive Damages Award in Pedestrian Fatality Case

Personal injury accidents are always stressful and disruptive for the victim’s life. But when it comes to wrongful death accidents, the outcome is devastating for the decedent’s surviving loved ones. When we lose someone to a careless accident that could have been avoided, it can feel like no amount of compensation can possibly make us whole again. But filing a wrongful death action against the persons responsible for your loved one’s loss can help cope with the financial impact of the accident and the loss of your loved one’s support and companionship. A wrongful death action is a type of claim that can be brought on behalf of an individual who loses his or her life as the result of someone’s negligent or reckless conduct. Attorney Jason M. Burton is available to assist you with your North Carolina wrongful death action.

In a recent case, a North Carolina appellate court considered an appeal from a defendant regarding whether punitive damages were appropriate in a claim where the plaintiff alleged that the defendant negligently and recklessly caused the death of his wife. Punitive damages are a category of damages separate from compensatory damages. They are meant to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct while dissuading other people from engaging in similar actions. A jury can award punitive damages if it finds that the defendant’s conduct willful or wanton under North Carolina law.

The parties agreed to a stipulated set of facts before trial stating that the defendant acted negligently while driving. The facts indicated that she lost control of her vehicle and swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding with the plaintiff’s wife as she was crossing the street. The jury awarded $4.25 million in compensatory damages during the first phase of a bifurcated trial. This means that the trial was split into multiple parts dedicated to specific issues. The second phase was dedicated to determining whether the defendant should be required to pay punitive damages. The jury heard evidence that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident. It awarded $45,000 to the plaintiff. The defendant filed a motion seeking a new trial, which the lower court denied.

The plaintiff appealed the denial of a new trial on the basis that the lower court permitted improper conduct to take place during the trial. But the appellate court reviewed the record and disagreed with the defendant, finding that she had received a fair trial. One particular issue was whether the lower court properly allowed individuals to testify in the compensatory damages trial who were not direct heirs of the decedent. The decedent objected to the testimony on the basis that it was irrelevant, but the court found it relevant to determining the impact of the loss of the plaintiff’s love, companionship, and support

There are few things more devastating than the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one, especially if the accident could have been avoided. North Carolina wrongful death lawyer Jason M. Burton is available to discuss your potential wrongful death action in a confidential and free consultation. While you are coping with the sudden loss and hardship, he will ensure that your legal rights are protected and asserted to the fullest extent. Call his office today at 1-833-623-0042 or contact him online to get started.