There's nothing more horrifying than the unexpected loss of a loved one. This type of tragedy can cause a family immense pain that never goes away, and the pain is amplified when a family finds out that their loved one died because of negligence or recklessness. If you find yourself in this situation, you should consider speaking with a Beaufort wrongful death attorney to get some guidance in this troubling time.
Losing a loved one of the worst things imaginable. Unfortunately, it's a risk that can't be completely mitigated; there's always the chance that the worst could happen. This is a fact of life, and we all have to learn to deal with it to some degree.
In this article, we'll talk more about South Carolina's wrongful death laws. We'll talk about who can file wrongful death lawsuits, what kind of damages might be available, and how these wrongful death incidents might arise.
Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Beaufort, South Carolina
A wrongful death refers to a fatality caused by the negligent or reckless acts of another party. You can think of a wrongful death case as a personal injury case where the injured personal can't bring a lawsuit on his or her behalf. Thus, a family member must bring a lawsuit to avenge the wrongful death of their loved one.
Wrongful death claims allow surviving family members to seek justice when they've lost their loved one due to someone else's negligence. These lawsuits help families make sure careless people are held accountable. Additionally, a wrongful death lawsuit can help families who were financially dependent on their lost loved one, and they can help families pay for things like medical bills and burial expenses.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Cases in Beaufort, South Carolina
Wrongful death cases often stem from tragic accidents involving negligence or recklessness. These instances vary, depending on a given location. In Beaufort, South Carolina, folks are out and about enjoying the beautiful climate.
With all the beautiful weather and the recreational activities, bad things can happen. However, there's also the risks associated with driving, just like anywhere else. Below are some of the more common causes of wrongful death cases in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Auto Accidents and Commercial Vehicle Accidents
This first one is obvious. We all know that there's a risk of getting into a fatal accident every time we get out on the roads. We simply can't control the behavior of irresponsible drivers.
There are people texting and driving; there are people fumbling around with their map applications; and there are many other people out there distracted while driving. There are also drunk drivers and fatigued truckers racing down the roads. Accordingly, automobile accidents, motorcycle accidents, and commercial vehicle accidents are some of the most common reasons families lose a loved one due to negligence or recklessness.
We've all heard about the notorious boat accident in Beaufort involving Mallory Beach and Paul Murdaugh. This accident swept the Nation, and few people haven't heard about it. However, this isn't the only example of a fatal boating accident in Beaufort, South Carolina; it just brought light to the bigger issue of reckless and careless boating.
There have been a number of fatal boating accidents in South Carolina over the recent years. Specifically, 16 people died in boating accidents in 2018, 15 died in 2019, 25 died in 2020, 18 died in 2021, and 22 died in 2022, according to the Coast Guard's recreational boating statistics. Many of these fatal boating accidents occur in Beaufort, Charleston, and throughout the Lowcountry.
Jet Ski and Personal Watercraft Rental Accidents
Personal watercrafts make up about 10% of the boating fatalities in the United States every year. In South Carolina, many of these more serious jet ski accidents and personal watercraft accidents occur when tourists rent a jet ski. Often times, the folks renting the jet skis do not get proper or adequate training or instructions from the rental company, and this can lead to serious accidents. Other times, serious accidents occur because of driver recklessness, including driving too fast for conditions, showing off, or drinking and driving.
A lot of people are walking around the streets of Beaufort at any given time. The weather is beautiful, and folks want to get out and enjoy it. Unfortunately, folks can suffer severe or fatal injuries when a reckless or careless driver runs into a pedestrian. Thus, pedestrian accidents are a major reason for wrongful death cases in Beaufort County, South Carolina.
In Beaufort, bicycle accidents contribute significantly to wrongful deaths. Bicyclists sharing roads with larger vehicles often face a high risk of fatal collisions. Despite protective measures like helmets or reflective gear, bicyclists remain vulnerable due to the sheer size and speed difference between them and motorized vehicles.
Golf Cart Accidents
Every year, more and more people are hitting the road in their golf cart. This is a convenient and fun way to get around. However, as more golf carts share the road with motor vehicles, there will be a corresponding rise in fatal accidents.
The size and weight difference between motor vehicles and golf carts makes those in the golf cart seriously vulnerable to injury. Moreover, golf carts are simply not constructed to endure serious impact. Thus, when a car and golf cart collide, folks can be seriously injured or killed.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim In Beaufort, SC?
In South Carolina, there are specific rules regarding who can file a wrongful death claim. Specifically, South Carolina allows only the personal representative of the deceased party's estate to file a wrongful death claim.
The personal representative, also called the "administrator" or the "executor" is usually named in the deceased person's will. However, if there's no will, the personal representative may be appointed by the probate court.
Which Family Members Can Benefit from a Wrongful Death Claim in SC?
In South Carolina, when it comes to wrongful death benefits, the distribution follows the same process as if the estate were being divided in the absence of a will, which is commonly referred to as intestate succession. In other words, the law determines how the money from a wrongful death case is distributed, and this can't be changed by an estate plan, like a will or a trust.
If the Deceased Leaves Behind a Living Spouse or Living Children
When distributing wrongful death benefits in South Carolina, priority is given to the deceased's spouse and children. Here's how it works:
- If the deceased was married and had no known children, the spouse receives the money.
- If the deceased was married and had children, the spouse receives 50% of the money, while the children divide the remaining money equally. If any of the deceased's children have passed away but have their own children, their share is passed down to the next generation.
- If the deceased had children but no surviving spouse, the money is equally divided among the children or their heirs, as described above.
This ensures fair allocation of benefits while considering the marital status and presence of children of the deceased.
If the Deceased Does Not Leave Behind a Living Spouse or Child
In South Carolina, if the deceased individual did not have a living spouse or any known children, the wrongful death money may be disbursed to other family members or heirs. The order of priority for distribution in South Carolina is as follows:
- Parents; then
- Siblings; then
- Other kin, based on South Carolina laws of intestate succession.
What Types of Damages Can a Family Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim in Beaufort, South Carolina?
Wrongful death claims are meant to compensate the family of the deceased person for the financial and emotional burdens they endure. These damages encompass various aspects, including:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost future earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Loss of support or companionship
- Funeral costs and burial expenses
The above types of damages are typically thought of as compensatory damages. They're meant to make the claimant or claimants whole.
However, in wrongful death cases, claimants may also be able to seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are not meant to make the claimant whole. Instead, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer for particularly egregious or reckless behavior.
What is a Survival Action?
In South Carolina, the personal representative may be able to bring a survival action in addition to the wrongful death claim. This begs the question: What is a survival action?
Whereas wrongful death claims are intended to benefit the family members, the purpose of survival actions is to benefit the deceased person. In South Carolina, the survival action statute, Section 15-5-90, allows individuals who have been injured but do not pass away immediately to seek compensation for damages suffered during the period between the accident and their eventual death.
What Types of Damages Can the Estate Recover in a Survival Action in South Carolina?
Survival actions are initiated on behalf of the deceased individual, rather than their family. Consequently, posthumous damages are typically not recoverable in a South Carolina survival action, with the exception of things like funeral and burial expenses. However, whether these damages are ultimately recoverable in a survival action will depend on whether they've already been recovered through the wrongful death action.
So, we mentioned that the survival action is for the benefit of the deceased individual. So, what types of damages are specifically recoverable in a survival action? In South Carolina, a survival action allows the estate of the deceased to pursue compensation for the following types of damages:
- Pain and suffering endured as a result of the negligent acts or omissions that ultimately led to their death;
- Medical expenses for injuries suffered in the incident;
- Funeral expenses and burial expenses (unless these damages have already been recovered through a wrongful death action).
Who Can Bring a Survival Action in South Carolina?
Similar to a wrongful death claim, a survival action must be filed by the personal representative, executor, or administrator of the deceased person's estate. Usually, the personal representative will bring the survival action alongside a wrongful death claim. And just like in a wrongful death claim, the damages recovered will be distributed among the spouse, children, parents, or heirs, based on who would inherit from the deceased person if he or she had died intestate.
FAQs in Relation to Beaufort Wrongful Death Attorney
Q1: How are wrongful death settlements paid out in South Carolina?
A1: In South Carolina, wrongful death settlements get distributed among the decedent's surviving family members according to how the decedent's estate would be distributed had the decedent died intestate (without a will). The personal representative of the estate initially receives the settlement and is responsible for dispersing it appropriately among the heirs. This includes the deceased's spouse, children, or parents, with stipulations outlined in the South Carolina probate code.
Q2: What constitutes wrongful death in South Carolina?
A2: A wrongful death in SC occurs when someone dies due to another person's negligence, recklessness, carelessness, or intentional harm. This could involve a range of scenarios including car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, and more. It's essential to consult with Beaufort wrongful death and personal injury lawyers to determine if your case constitutes a wrongful death under South Carolina law.
Q3: What is the wrongful death cap in South Carolina?
A3: There is no wrongful death cap in South Carolina for economic and non-economic damages in typical cases involving ordinary negligence. There is, however, a cap on damages when the case is based on medical malpractice. Additionally, there's a $500k cap for punitive damages or three times the amount of actual damages awarded, whichever is greater.
Q4: What are the damages for wrongful death in South Carolina?
A4: Wrongful death damages awarded in a wrongful death case in South Carolina typically encompass economic damages, such as lost wages and medical expenses, and non-economic damages, which cover pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. Furthermore, in cases where the defendant's actions were particularly reckless, punitive damages may be awarded to deter such behavior in future. It is highly recommended to consult with Beaufort wrongful death attorneys to get a thorough understanding of what damages might be recoverable in your specific case.
Q5: Who are the beneficiaries of wrongful death in SC?
A5: In South Carolina, the beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim typically include the decedent's surviving spouse and children. If no spouse or children exist, the parents of the decedent or the heirs at law may be beneficiaries. A detailed consultation with South Carolina personal injury and wrongful death lawyers can provide more clarity on who may be eligible to receive benefits in Beaufort personal injury and wrongful death cases.
Q6: What is the burden of proof for wrongful death in SC?
A6: In a wrongful death case in South Carolina, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's negligence or wrongdoing directly resulted in the death. This often involves demonstrating that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, that they failed in that duty, and that the breach of duty caused the death. Consulting with a South Carolina wrongful death lawyer can prove beneficial in effectively presenting the case and meeting this burden of proof.
Q7: Who can sue for wrongful death in South Carolina?
A7: In South Carolina, a wrongful death lawsuit can typically be filed by the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate. If no executor or administrator has been appointed, the court may assign one. It is advisable to consult a South Carolina personal injury and wrongful death lawyer or law firm to guide you through the complexities of the process of filing a Beaufort wrongful death case.