My sister, who was a single mother of two young girls, was killed by a drunk driver several months ago. Do my nieces, as dependents, have any sort of recourse against the drunk driver?
"This is atypical of the normal personal injury process. The question becomes what sort of recourse do the dependents have. North Dakota law recognizes dependent's ability to recover damages for the harms and losses suffered by the death of a parent or another loved one through what is called a wrongful death claim."
How would these two girls go about or start this process?
"Hierarchy or priority; i.e., spouse, children, etc. Minor children can't bring legal claims; they need a parent, legal guardian, or a guardian ad litem to pursue a lawsuit on the children's behalf. Attempt to secure a settlement with the drunk driver or his insurance company. If that's not possible, then the children would have to bring a lawsuit against the drunk driver."
What if the drunk driver's insurance policy was arguably too low to adequately compensate the children?
"This is a common question. Insurance policies generally cannot compensate for the loss of a parent. These two girls most likely relied on the financial support of their mother and were probably going to continue to rely on that financial support until they are no longer minors.
They can make a UIM claim. It's important to be aware of other sources of insurance when making injury claims."
Besides the two girls, can anyone else bring a wrongful death claim?
"Only one party can bring a claim or lawsuit for the wrongful death of another. In the event the daughters fail or choose not to bring the claim, then you would again look to the next person on that hierarchy of priority. It's also important to know that the party bringing the wrongful death claim brings the claim on behalf of the decedent's heirs. So there is a distinction between the capacity to bring a wrongful death claim and the capacity to recover damages as a beneficiary of a wrongful death claim."
Is each heir entitled to a certain percentage of the recovered damages?
"The jury would award damages in an amount that it finds proportionate to the injuries sustained by the heirs as a result of the wrongful death. Then the judge will ultimately split up and distribute the damages to each heir in an amount that the court finds appropriate. So it's often the case that the court will do some investigation of its own to determine the amounts that each heir should receive."