Like every state, North Dakota has its own rules when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits filed in the state's civil court system. In this article, we'll look at North Dakota's definition of wrongful death. We'll also examine who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in North Dakota, what types of damages are available, and the time limits for filing this kind of civil case.
'Wrongful Death' Defined in North Dakota
North Dakota Century Code section 32-21-01 defines a wrongful death as one that arises from the "wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another. The act that causes death may be negligent, reckless, or intentional, as long as it is the kind of act that would have allowed the deceased person to bring a personal injury claim had he or she lived.
In this way, a wrongful death claim can be understood as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer available to protect his or her own legal interests. Instead, another party must bring the claim to court, both to protect the interests of the deceased person's estate and to protect the legal rights of the deceased person's surviving family members.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in North Dakota?
North Dakota Century Code section 32-21-03 lists the individuals who may file a wrongful death claim in North Dakota, in the order in which they are allowed to file:
- the surviving spouse of the deceased person
- the surviving child or children
- either surviving parent of the deceased person
- any surviving grandparent of the deceased person
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate, and
- the person who had primary physical custody of the deceased person before the wrongful act occurred.
Parties have the right to file a claim in the order listed in the North Dakota statute. For instance, if both a spouse and child have survived the deceased person, the spouse has the right to file the claim.
Section 31-21-03 also states that "If any person entitled to bring the action refuses or neglects so to do for a period of thirty days after demand of the person next in order, that person may bring the action." For example, if a surviving child of the deceased person asks the surviving spouse to file a wrongful death claim, and the surviving spouse does not do so within thirty days, the surviving child may file the claim.
Time Limits for Filing a North Dakota Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim in North Dakota must be filed within six years of the date of the deceased person's death. This time limit or "statute of limitations" typically runs along with the thirty-day time limits specified in Section 32-21-03.
Since certain specific facts or circumstances can affect how the statute of limitations runs, it is best to speak to a North Dakota attorney with experience in wrongful death cases to determine exactly how the time limits apply in a particular case. If the case is not filed before the statute of limitations expires, it will not be heard by the court.
Damages in North Dakota Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are civil cases, which means that liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Damages that may be available in a successful North Dakota wrongful death case are divided into two categories: "economic" damages and "non-economic" damages.
Economic damages include:
- reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- medical expenses and medical care
- rehabilitation services and custodial care
- loss of earnings and earning capacity
- loss of income and support, and
- loss of employment, employment opportunities, or loss of business.
Non-economic damages include:
- pain, suffering, and inconvenience
- physical impairment or disfigurement
- mental and emotional anguish
- fear of injury, loss, or illness
- loss of society, companionship, or consortium, and
- injury to reputation or humiliation.
As in any other civil case in North Dakota, the damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit are based on losses that are provable in court. In addition, the judge or jury that awards damages must specify what part of the damages award are for past, present, and future damages, respectively. Damages awarded in a wrongful death case are paid to the beneficiaries directly, and may not be taxed as part of the estate.
Section 32-03.2-04 of the North Dakota Century Code states that these damages are available in wrongful death cases, regardless of whether the case is based on a breach of contract or a tort (a civil wrong).