Columbia, South Carolina has its share of fatal accidents. If you've ever driven on I-20 or I-26, especially where they come together, you know how dangerous it can be at times. Data from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety shows that there were 70 fatal collisions in Richland County and 52 fatal collisions in Lexington County in just 2021 alone. In fact, out of the 46 counties in South Carolina, Richland Country ranked number 5 in top 5 South Carolina counties in fatal traffic collisions, and it ranked number 4 in top 5 counties in injury collisions.
Additionally, Lake Murray consistently has some of the highest numbers of boating accidents of all bodies of water in South Carolina according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Additionally, Richland and Lexington Counties have their share of pedestrian accidents, occurring most commonly at:
- Old Wire Road (S-1258) and Interstate 26 (Lexington County)
- S-10 (Harden St.) and US-21 (Main St.) (Richland County)
- S-901 (Prescott Rd.) and S-1818 (Foster St.) (Richland County)
- US-176 (Broad River Rd.) and S-683 (Marley Dr.) (Richland County)
As we'll talk about more in this article, car accidents, truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, and boating accidents aren't the only ways people die as a result of another person's negligence, but these accidents make up a big percentage of wrongful death cases in Columbia, SC. Now, let’s dive into wrongful death cases in South Carolina and talk about some of the issues that you will face as you pursue justice for your lost loved one. That way, you can be more confident moving forward, and you can ensure that your rights are protected.
Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Columbia, South Carolina
Families that have lost a loved one due to careless or reckless behavior of someone else can pursue a wrongful death claim to get justice for their loved one and to make their communities safer. It can also bring closure to a chapter that is unforgettable in the worst way possible.
The term "wrongful death" is a daunting one. It's a phrase you might hear at some point in your life, but you hope that it will never be in the context of you or your family. Simply put, a wrongful death claim is a claim brought on behalf of a deceased person when that person is killed due to the careless, reckless, or even intentional actions or inactions of another person or business. It's basically a personal injury case, but since the person who was harmed can't bring a lawsuit on his or her own behalf, another person (usually a family member appointed to be personal representative) must bring the lawsuit.
Defining Wrongful Death in South Carolina
Under South Carolina law, Section 15-51-10 defines wrongful death as one that arises from "the wrongful act, neglect or default" of another person which would have allowed for personal injury claims if the deceased had survived. This legal concept allows families who have lost a loved one to make sure that those responsible are held accountable beyond any criminal actions that may ensue.
An important aspect to note is that a successful outcome doesn't rely on criminal charges being brought against those responsible--these two processes operate independently from each other. While the criminal side of the law punishes bad behavior in one way, the civil side of the law makes negligent or reckless people pay with money. Sometimes, especially when a business is involved, the civil side of the law does a good job of curbing dangerous behavior because we can't put a business in jail for killing someone.
Navigating Through Legal Requirements
Wrongful death cases are different from typical personal injury cases in several important ways. First, South Carolina law provides that only the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate may bring a wrongful death claim. So, not just anyone can bring a wrongful death case in South Carolina.
Second, wrongful death proceeds are distributed to specific family members according to South Carolina statute. This is different from a personal injury claim, where the injured victim receives the proceeds, and sometimes a spouse may receive proceeds for loss of consortium.
Third, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases starts ticking on the day the person dies, at least in a majority of wrongful death cases. In personal injury cases, the clock starts ticking on the date of injury, with the exception of some medical malpractice situations where the clock can start ticking upon discovery of the injury. Thus, the wrongful death clock won't usually start ticking until death, and, if the wrongful death case is based on medical malpractice, the clock may start ticking upon injury or the discovery of the injury. We will dig into the statute of limitations issue more below.
Every case is unique, and the outcomes can vary widely. They largely depend on specific circumstances surrounding each incident, as well as legal arguments presented by both sides during proceedings. Additionally, insurance coverage can play a big part in determining the value of a given wrongful death case because most individuals don't have the money or assets to pay a claim.
It's essential to remember that, though no amount of money can make up for the loss of a cherished one, obtaining equitable compensation may offer some respite from financial strain caused by diminished income, medical expenses, memorial service costs, funeral costs, burial costs, and so on. Additionally, regardless of the money involved, wrongful death claims are a great way to hold people and businesses accountable for dangerous behavior, which makes our communities safer and prevents the unnecessary loss of life.
Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths in Columbia, South Carolina
As we discussed, a wrongful death case could arise from any situation where a person is killed due to careless, reckless, or intentional behavior. The causes of these cases are numerous, but some causes tend to happen more frequently.
Car crashes rank high on the list. Given the great amount of traffic and frequently difficult road conditions in Columbia and Lexington, it's no surprise that fatal collisions happen here regularly. These tragedies often result from reckless driving, speeding, or drunk driving.
Columbia’s strategic location means many 18-wheelers pass through its roads daily. When these giants collide with smaller vehicles, catastrophic injuries and death may ensue. Semi-truck, 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, dump trucks, and other large commercial vehicles are subject to tighter regulations, many of which are set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The convenience brought by Uber and Lyft has not come without cost; rideshare-related fatalities have been reported across this city too. Distracted drivers or poorly maintained vehicles could be behind such incidents, but rideshare drivers often engage in the same reckless behaviors as other drivers.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents
Pedestrians and cyclists face their own risks on Columbia streets, and distracted motorists failing to yield right-of-way can lead to fatal encounters for those on foot or bike. Data shows alarming trends, underscoring the need for increased vigilance among all road users.
Fatalities On Waterways
With its abundance of rivers & lakes including Lake Murray & Saluda River, there is an unfortunate risk associated with boating accidents, which can also claim lives. These accidents can involve boats, kayaks, canoes, and other vessels, and the risk of drowning is always present.
Motorcycles are at a huge disadvantage in an automobile collision due to the size difference and the fact that motorcyclists are exposed. Data from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety shows that a motorcyclist died every 2.3 days in South Carolina during the year 2021.
Medical Malpractice & Dental Malpractice
Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that over 250,000 people die every year due to medical malpractice. These deaths could involve surgical errors or failure to diagnose serious conditions. In dental malpractice, deaths often occur due to anesthesia errors and sedation errors.
Shootings, stabbings, and other assaults at businesses occur with alarming frequency in South Carolina. Negligent security wrongful death cases often involve a person getting killed at a gas station, hotel, motel, or apartment complex. The question in these cases is whether the property owner took proper steps to ensure the safety of guest or allowed, even attracted, crime to the business premises. If you allow your business to be a hotspot for crime--an attractive place for criminal activity--you may be on the hook if someone gets hurt.
Pools are a great way to avoid the heat in South Carolina and enjoy the summer months. However, when pools are negligently maintained or improperly supervised, folks can get hurt or killed, especially children. Wrongful death cases often arise from drownings at pools in tourist areas, often located at hotels, motels, and resorts.
Remember: A wrongful death doesn't just occur, it's caused. Behind each of these accidents is negligence or reckless action that leads to an untimely end for someone's loved one. If you've lost a family member in such circumstances, seeking the help of a Columbia wrongful death attorney can guide you through this complex legal process and ensure justice is served.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
Whenever you're dealing with a wrongful death case, you must have the proper claimant, and that's determined by South Carolina Code Section 15-21-20. Under South Carolina law, only the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate (sometimes called the "personal representative") can bring a wrongful death claim. The law makes this very clear, which simplifies things when there's multiple family members that want justice for the loss of their loved one.
The personal representative of the estate is often named in the deceased person's will. However, if not, the court can appoint one. Once appointed, this person--the personal representative--can bring the wrongful death claim.
Who Can Benefit from the Wrongful Death Claim?
The personal representative of the deceased person's estate brings the lawsuit; however, members of the deceased person's family can receive proceeds. In South Carolina, the benefits are distributed according to which family members survive the decedent. The surviving family members that can receive proceeds include the following:
- Heirs under South Carolina law
How the funds are distributed will depend on who survives the decedent--who is living after the decedent dies. If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children, the surviving spouse gets half, and the children split the other half. If the decedent died with a spouse and no children, the spouse gets it all. If the decedent died with no spouse but children, the children split the proceeds. Additionally, the children, including any children born out of wedlock, will split the proceeds equally.
If there is no living spouse or children, we look at the parents, but a parent may only be able to receive proceeds from a judgment or award if they can show that they supported the decedent when the decedent was a child. Next, if no parents survived the decedent, we look to siblings and other heirs under South Carolina law.
An important point about wrongful death cases is the proceeds are divided up according to statute, and this cannot be altered by a will. However, any proceeds received as a part of a survival action are considered to be part of the decedent's estate, and thus would be distributed according to the terms of the decedent's will. This is one of those areas where the law gets tricky, and your Columbia wrongful death attorney can help you navigate the complexities of your wrongful death case.
Damages Recoverable In A South Carolina Wrongful Death Claim
When a loved one dies because of another person's carelessness or recklessness, the consequences are more than just psychological distress. You're often left dealing with financial hardships too. But that's where a Columbia wrongful death attorney can help to get compensation for a family's loss.
In South Carolina, economic damages aim to compensate for the monetary losses that come from losing a family member unexpectedly. These may include medical bills accrued before your loved one passed away and funeral expenses, which can run high even for modest services.
Besides these immediate costs, lost wages and benefits are also covered under economic damages if your deceased loved one was a primary earner in your household. This calculation isn't straightforward; it takes into account factors like age of the deceased, their income at time of death, and potential future earnings they were expected to make until retirement.
The loss experienced by surviving family members goes beyond tangible finances though, and non-economic damages seek compensation for intangible suffering caused by the tragedy. This category includes elements like mental anguish suffered because of untimely demise of close kin or bereavement parents feel upon losing a child prematurely.
Whereas economic and non-economic damages exist to make people whole again for their loss, punitive damages exist to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in the behaviors that caused the death of your loved one. Punitive damages are not available in every case and involve clear and convincing evidence of particularly egregious behavior.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Columbia
The statute of limitations is a critical factor to consider when filing wrongful death lawsuits in Columbia, South Carolina. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits dictates a strict timeline for filing such claims from the date of your loved one's passing. If you miss the deadline, you may lose your right to pursue a claim.
When Does The Clock Start Ticking?
In most cases, the countdown begins from the date of your loved one's passing. However, this rule has exceptions, based on the type of case and the defendant in the case.
Typical Wrongful Death Case
A typical wrongful death case involving a claim against another person or private business will have a three-year statute of limitations, and the clock starts ticking upon death. The relevant statute is South Carolina Code Section 15-3-530, and it provides, in relevant part:
"Within three years: an action under Sections 15-51-10 to 15-51-60 for death by wrongful act, the period to begin to run upon the death of the person on account of whose death the action is brought."
Thus, in cases involving a motor vehicle accident, 18 wheeler accident, Uber accident, boating accident, or any other typical claim, this is the applicable statute of limitations.
Wrongful Death Case Involving a Governmental Defendant
South Carolina has a different statute of limitations when a governmental entity is the defendant. South Carolina Code Section 15-78-110 provides the following:
Except as provided for in Section 15-3-40 (issues involving a minor under 18 or a person deemed insane), any action brought pursuant to this chapter is forever barred unless an action is commenced within two years after the date the loss was or should have been discovered; provided, that if the claimant first filed a claim pursuant to this chapter then the action for damages based upon the same occurrence is forever barred unless the action is commenced within three years of the date the loss was or should have been discovered.
This two-year statute of limitations that will apply in a wrongful death case brought against a school, county hospital, or any other state entity.
Wrongful Death Case Based on Medical Malpractice or Dental Malpractice
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice and dental malpractice cases in South Carolina is three years from the date of the injury or the date at which the victim discovered the injury. Thus, the three-year clock may start ticking long before the victim dies. Another important twist in this type of case is that no legal action may be brought more than 6 years from the date of treatment, regardless of the date of discovery.
The applicable statute here is South Carolina Code Section 15-3-545, which provides:
In any action, other than actions [involving a foreign object in the body], to recover damages for injury to the person arising out of any medical, surgical, or dental treatment, omission, or operation by any licensed health care provider as defined in Article 5, Chapter 79, Title 38 acting within the scope of his profession must be commenced within three years from the date of the treatment, omission, or operation giving rise to the cause of action or three years from date of discovery or when it reasonably ought to have been discovered, not to exceed six years from date of occurrence, or as tolled by this section.
Accordingly, if a wrongful death case involves medical malpractice or dental malpractice, the statute of limitations is not always as clear as a case involving a straightforward car accident or trucking accident. Your Columbia wrongful death attorney can help you to meet the legal deadlines involved in your case, and you shouldn't hesitate to seek legal advice at the first opportunity.
Wrongful Death Lawyer Columbia SC - Guiding You to Justice
The role of a wrongful death lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina is both multifaceted and vital. Their mission is to guide you through the legal labyrinth that surrounds these complex cases.
Navigating Legal Complexity
These attorneys are seasoned navigators in the realm of tort law. They understand how to traverse intricate legislation such as the South Carolina Wrongful Death Act, using this knowledge to fight for justice on your behalf.
This doesn't just involve interpreting dense legalese but also applying it effectively to build a strong case. Every detail matters, from proving negligence caused your loved one's demise, down to pinpointing precise damages incurred because of their untimely passing.
Gathering and Preserving Evidence
A critical part of any wrongful death lawsuit is gathering compelling evidence. This could include medical records showing a decline in health due directly to negligent actions or perhaps an expert witness account linking reckless behavior with fatal outcomes. One of our critical jobs is to work hard to gather evidence so that when grieving families claim damages, they have everything they need to bolster their case.
Not only do these lawyers gather crucial information, but they also work diligently to preserve it against possible tampering or destruction by opposing parties. We can send out a letter or preservation or "spoliation letter" to the other side early in the wrongful death action to deter the other side from destroying or "losing" evidence. This preservation helps maintain integrity throughout the legal process and ensures every piece of evidence can be presented when needed.
Tackling Insurance Companies & Negotiations
Battling insurance companies can feel like David taking on Goliath. Insurance companies know their way around policies because they handle these claims daily, and they will often use this knowledge aggressively during settlement talks. But don’t despair because having a knowledgeable attorney at your side levels up the playing field substantially. We know how to handle these people.
Your attorney will know how to push back against lowball settlement offers and push for fair compensation that truly reflects the losses you’ve endured. A Columbia wrongful death attorney's aim is not just to settle a case, but to make sure you don't leave money on the table.
FAQs Related to Wrongful Death Attorneys in Columbia, SC
Q1: When should I file a wrongful death lawsuit in SC?
A1: Insurance companies may not want to allow a case to go to court, and so a case may settle without filing a lawsuit during the pre-suit phase of the claim. However, sometimes filing a lawsuit is the only way to determine what happened, and it may be the only way to get fair compensation. Once we've investigated the claim, we can send the insurance company a demand for payment and if they refuse, a lawsuit may be the proper way to proceed.
Q2: How do children get compensated for wrongful death in South Carolina?
A2: Unfortunately, children are often affected in these types of cases, and they're entitled to compensation for the loss of their parent. However, the court must approve settlements for minors, and the settlement may be subject to restrictions. For example, the money may be handled by a conservator or a parent, or it may be subject to some sort of structured settlement.
Q3: How does a will affect wrongful death beneficiaries in South Carolina?
A3: A will won't affect how wrongful death proceeds are paid out because this is determined by South Carolina statute. A recovery from a survival action, however, can be affected by a will.
Q4: Are illegitimate children entitled to benefits from a South Carolina wrongful death case?
A4: Yes. South Carolina law treats illegitimate children--children born out of wedlock--the same as "legitimate" children or children born in a marriage.
Q5: What are the typical attorney fees for wrongful death cases in South Carolina?
A5: The percentage of the contingency fee will often range from one-third to 40%. However, you may be able to negotiate a lower fee with your lawyer, depending on the facts of your case. It's always worth asking to see if you can work something out. Our job involves constant negotiations, and we don't mind if our clients want to negotiate with us. We're always willing to discuss this, and we want you to be happy. There's a quote that goes: "You have not because you ask not," so ask. The worst the attorney can say is no.
Q6: How much do I have to pay a Columbia wrongful death lawyer to represent me?
A6: Although we can't speak for other firms, our firm handles wrongful death cases on contingency. This means that you don't pay anything unless we recover money for you. In other words, we don't get paid unless you get paid; our representation is free unless we win. Also, our law firm offers free consultations, so a call with one of our wrongful death attorneys is no risk to you.
Q7: What's the typical deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina?
A7: In most wrongful death cases, South Carolina imposes a three-year statute of limitations, and the clock begins ticking from the date of death. However, this deadline has several exceptions, including where the responsible party is a governmental defendant, or when it's based on medical malpractice or dental malpractice.
Q8: What is considered wrongful death in South Carolina?
A8: A wrongful death in South Carolina is where a person dies as a result of the negligence, carelessness, or intentional actions of another person or business. An experienced attorney on our legal team can help you to determine whether your loved one's death could serve as the basis for a wrongful death claim against a negligent party. Our attorneys work on a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, and we can help guide you through the process.