None of us are prepared to lose a loved one due to negligence of recklessness. These types of events are a shock, like a bomb going off in a family that leaves everyone hurt, confused, and overwhelmed. You should never have to lose a loved one this way, but a Charleston wrongful death lawyer can help you get justice for your family and your lost loved one.
Although we can't put someone in jail -- that's the job of the criminal system -- we can make a negligent person or business pay for what they've done. Sometimes, hitting one of these companies in the wallet hurts them the worst. In this way, a wrongful death lawsuit can make our communities safer and keep our friends, family, and children from getting killed by recklessness.
In this article, we'll talk about wrongful death cases in South Carolina, and we'll talk about how a Charleston wrongful death lawyer at our office can provide invaluable help and guidance. If you're reading this and want to speak with a lawyer, don't hesitate to reach out to us for a free legal consultation. We're happy to talk with you about your legal rights and options.
Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Charleston, South Carolina
South Carolina's wrongful death statute governs wrongful death cases in Charleston and throughout the State of South Carolina. Specifically, SC Code Ann. Section 15-51-10 et seq., provides the legal framework for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina.
The statute provides that a wrongful death lawsuit is brought on behalf of a deceased individual's spouse, children, parents, or heirs. The statute gives families the right to pursue a claim for damages when their loved one's death was the result of the reckless, careless, or negligent actions and/or inactions of another person or business. The wrongful death lawsuit is generally for the benefit of close family members who suffered damages and losses as a result of their loved one's passing.
What Type of Incidents Can be the Reason for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Charleston?
In Charleston, South Carolina, any incident that causes the death of a person could be the reason for a wrongful death lawsuit. However, some types of wrongful death cases are more common in Charleston than others, including the following:
- Pedestrian accidents (People getting hit by a car while on foot);
- Auto accidents;
- 18-wheeler and commercial vehicle accidents;
- Delivery van accidents;
- Bicycle accidents;
- Skateboard and scooter accidents;
- Boating accidents;
- Jet ski rental accidents;
- Motorcycle accidents;
- Negligent security (Shootings, stabbings, assaults at gas stations, hotels, and apartment complexes).
Certainly, any death involving negligence or carelessness could form the foundation of a wrongful death lawsuit in Charleston, but these are definitely the most common. Other types of wrongful death cases may include medical malpractice or nursing home neglect or abuse. If you've lost a loved one, and you believe that person's death was due to an intentional, negligent, or reckless act, you should speak with a Charleston wrongful death lawyer.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Charleston?
South Carolina law is very clear about who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit after a person is killed due to negligence. South Carolina Code Section 15-51-20 provides that the executor or administrator (sometimes called the "personal representative") of the deceased person's estate is the only person who can bring the wrongful death lawsuit. Thus, before a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed, the court must appoint a personal representative of the estate or approve one named in the deceased person's will.
To be the personal representative, a person must be at least 18 years old, and they need to be of sound mind. In other words, the court needs to be sure that the person can make rational decisions. Personal representative is a serious responsibility.
What Damages Are Available in a Charleston Wrongful Death Case?
Wrongful death lawsuits provide an avenue for family members to seek damages on behalf of the deceased party and hold a defendant accountable for their negligent actions or inactions. Additionally, these lawsuits enable family members to pursue compensation for their own financial and personal losses resulting from the untimely death of their loved one. Some of the common types of damages awarded in Charleston wrongful death claims include:
- Lost wages: Families can seek compensation for the income that the deceased would have earned had the deceased person survived the accident. This encompasses both the immediate loss of wages and the potential income that the deceased would have earned over his or her lifetime.
- Medical expenses: A wrongful death settlement may cover the medical costs incurred by the deceased as a result of the accident. This includes expenses such as ambulance bills and emergency room fees. Here, we're looking at the cost of treating the injuries that were ultimately fatal.
- Pain and suffering: Prior to their death, victims suffering serious injuries may have endured intense pain and suffering. For example, a person that suffers burns in a serious automobile accident. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the claimant may be eligible to pursue compensation for these damages, essentially stepping into the deceased person's shoes.
- Funeral expenses: Funerals can be financially burdensome, but filing a wrongful death claim allows family members to seek reimbursement for the costs associated with burial and funeral arrangements.
- Punitive damages: In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be imposed on the defendant as a form of punishment for their negligent behavior. Whereas the other damages we've discussed look to compensate for losses, punitive damages serve as punishment to deter similar negligent or reckless behaviors. For example, punitive damages may be awarded in a case where a drunk truck driver kills someone in a collision.
By pursuing legal action through wrongful death lawsuits, families can seek justice and obtain some financial relief for the damages caused by the loss of their loved one.
The Process of Pursuing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Charleston
The process of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in Charleston, South Carolina will differ a bit, depending on the facts and circumstances of a given case. However, there are some common steps that we tend to follow that serve as foundational steps of the wrongful death process.
Consultation with a Charleston Wrongful Death Lawyer
The first step is to talk with a Charleston wrongful death lawyer about what happened. This is where you discuss the facts of the potential case and your potential options moving forward. If you have a viable case, and you and the attorney have a good conversation, you can become a client and move forward with the process.
The next step is investigation. Your Charleston wrongful death attorney will work to gather any and all relevant evidence. Additionally, we like to send out letters of preservation, sometimes called "spoliation" letters, right away to make sure valuable evidence isn't lost or destroyed.
Identify All Potential Defendants
As part of our investigation, we will work to determine which parties may be liable for your loved one's death. Sometimes, only one person is liable for a person's death. However, other times, multiple people and entities may be liable.
For example, if a person is killed in a trucking accident involving a drunk truck driver, the truck driver would obviously be liable. However, the trucking company may also be liable, especially if the trucker had a history of bad behavior and the trucking company negligently hired the driver.
In the same way, a negligent security incident, like a shooting at a bar or nightclub, often will involve multiple defendants. The shooter is obviously liable for harm caused. However, there's often a security company and a property owner that could be held liable as well.
Review All Relevant Insurance Policies
With each potential defendant, there may be a unique insurance policy. Each insurance policy may provide coverage, depending on how that policy is written. Therefore, identifying potential insurance policies and reviewing those policies is a major part of a wrongful death case.
Sometimes, a wrongful death case may require an expert witness to establish negligence. For example, after a trucking accident, it may be necessary to hire an accident reconstruction expert to give an expert option about how and why the accident occurred.
Speak with Witnesses
Sometimes there are witnesses to a fatal accident, and these people can be extremely valuable. However, your Charleston wrongful death lawyer needs to reach out to them because witnesses can disappear. They can move or change their phone number, and it can be difficult to find them when you need them.
Negotiating with the Insurance Companies
Once you have the evidence you need to establish negligence, your Charleston wrongful death lawyer will attempt to negotiate with the insurance companies who are exposed or may have to pay money on the claim. Sometimes, the insurance companies will determine that it doesn't make financial sense to proceed to litigation, and they're willing to properly compensate the plaintiff or claimant early in the case. Other times, the insurance company may want to fight the claim and push the case to litigation.
Preparing and Filing the Lawsuit
If the insurance company does not want to be reasonable and pay the claim, the next step for you and your Charleston wrongful death lawyer may be to file a lawsuit in the proper South Carolina court. This will begin the litigation phase of the wrongful death case and set you down the path toward trial. However, most wrongful death cases settle before trial. These cases are a huge risk for insurance companies to take to trial.
Discovery and Exchange of Documents
Once your lawsuit is filed, the discovery phase of the lawsuit will begin. During this time, attorneys will exchange information and documents. Additionally, attorneys may need to depose parties and witnesses.
Often times, after some or all discovery has been completed, the parties will go to mediation in an attempt to settle the case prior to going to trial. Trying a case can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming, and it's quite stressful for everyone involved. So, it could be in the parties' best interests to settle the case at mediation.
If negotiations fail, the parties may have to go to trial. This is where a jury will review the evidence and determine if the defendant or defendants were negligent. If they determine the defendant was negligent, they must also determine how much money to award.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases in Charleston
South Carolina law provides that a wrongful death claim must be filed within three (3) years of the day the person died. This legal time limit is called the statute of limitations, and the statute of limitations is governed by state law.
If you fail to file a wrongful death lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you will likely lose all rights to seek compensation for the loss of your loved one. Thus, it's critical that you do not delay in speaking with a Charleston wrongful death lawyer so you can be sure your rights are protected.
How Are Settlements Paid Out in a Charleston Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the money recovered is paid out according to South Carolina law. First priority goes to the closest relatives, including the spouse, children, and parents, depending on who is living. If none of these people survive the decedent, then the heirs under SC law may benefit from the wrongful death settlement.
The surviving spouse and children of the deceased person are given priority in receiving benefits from a wrongful death suit. However, the situation can become intricate depending on the surviving family members.
When there is a living spouse and no children, the spouse receives 100% of the wrongful death settlement. In cases where there are children, the spouse receives 50%, while the remaining 50% is divided equally among the children. Any portion assigned to deceased children is passed through to their surviving children. If the deceased leaves behind children but no surviving spouse, the children divide the benefits in equal shares.
In the absence of a surviving spouse or children, the deceased person's parents may qualify for benefits through a wrongful death settlement. If there are no surviving parents, the deceased person's siblings or other heirs, as defined by South Carolina law, may be eligible for those benefits.
It's important to clarify that the benefits from a wrongful death lawsuit are disbursed as if the individual passed away intestate, meaning without a will. It's crucial to note that no estate plan can modify this arrangement. In simpler terms, this distribution is non-negotiable, and wrongful death benefits are consistently awarded in compliance with South Carolina law.
FAQs in Relation to Charleston Wrongful Death Lawyer
Q1: Who can sue for wrongful death in South Carolina?
A1: In South Carolina, the executor or administrator, sometimes called the "Personal Representative" of the deceased person's estate is the only person allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The wrongful death attorney will work with the personal representative to obtain money for the benefit of the deceased person's close family members and heirs.
Q2: What constitutes wrongful death in South Carolina?
A2: A wrongful death happens when someone dies due to another person's negligence, recklessness, or deliberate action. This includes cases like car accidents, truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, boat accidents, and negligent security incidents.
Q3: How are wrongful death settlements paid out in South Carolina?
A3: The settlement from a successful wrongful death claim is typically distributed among the deceased’s next of kin according to state law. The spouse and children have first priority, followed by parents and siblings, and then by next-of-kin, as determined under South Carolina laws of intestate succession.
Q4: How long do you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina?
A4: The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina is three (3) years from the date of your loved one's death. You should speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer that handles these types of cases right away to be sure your rights are protected.
Q5: How much do I have to pay a Charleston wrongful death lawyer to represent me?
A5: You pay absolutely nothing unless we win. There are no upfront costs; you don't pay us a retainer; and we don't get paid unless you get paid. We take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that we can a percentage of the recovery in the wrongful death case.
Q6: What is a survival action in South Carolina?
A6: South Carolina, unlike many states, allows folks to seek damages on behalf of the decedent for what the decedent could have demanded in a personal injury lawsuit had the decedent survived. In a survival action, we're generally talking about damages incurred between the time the decedent was injured and the time of the decedent's death. Your Charleston wrongful death lawyer can make sure you're seeking all the damages available in your case.