When you lose a loved one due to some unforeseen event, like a trucking accident or car accident, the loss is an absolute shock, and your world is turned upside down in an instant. As if the trauma wasn’t enough, there’s also the financial burden that comes with losing someone, and this can compound a family’s grief and anxiety. You shouldn’t have to deal with that, especially if some careless or reckless person caused all these problems in the first place, and that’s where a Myrtle Beach wrongful death lawyer from our office can help.
What is a “Wrongful Death” in South Carolina?
South Carolina Code Section 15-51-10 defines “wrongful death” in South Carolina, and it provides the following:
Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, the person who would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as make the killing in law a felony.
S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-10.
If we break the statute down into simple terms, it says that a wrongful death is a death caused by another person’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness. Essentially, this is a situation where the victim could have brought a personal injury claim for their injuries had they survived. However, because they died, someone must stand in their shoes and bring a claim on their behalf.
What Are Some Common Reasons for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Myrtle Beach, SC?
As you might imagine, there are many ways a careless or reckless person can kill someone else. Any time someone dies because of negligence, there’s the potential for a wrongful death case. However, some reasons for wrongful death lawsuits are much more common in Myrtle Beach than others, so let’s talk about that.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Data from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety shows that Horry County has some of the highest numbers of auto accidents in South Carolina. In fact, Horry County was ranked number four, with 11,594 traffic collisions, behind Greenville, Charleston, and Richland Counties. It was number 3 in fatal traffic collisions, with a total of 73 in 2021, just behind Greenville and Spartanburg.
Drunk Driving Accidents
Myrtle Beach, along with Greenville, Charleston, and Columbia, has more drunk driving deaths and crashes than anywhere else in South Carolina. Specifically, data from the SCDPS shows that there were 30 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Horry County in 2021, and this is a sharp increase from the previous four years.
You might expect this because Myrtle Beach is where folks go to have fun. However, whenever drunk people get behind the wheel, they kill, and this is a major cause for wrongful death cases in South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach also has some of the highest numbers of pedestrian accidents in South Carolina. In fact, the intersection of US-17 and S-537 is one of the top intersections for pedestrian accidents in the whole state. In total, there were 125 pedestrian accidents in Horry County, resulting in 23 serious injury incidents and 21 fatal injury incidents.
Another major cause of wrongful death lawsuits in Myrtle Beach, SC is motorcycle accidents. According to the SCDPS Traffic Collision Fact Book, there were 64 serious injury incidents and 15 fatal injury incidents involving motorcycle accidents in Horry County in 2021.
According to data and statistics from the United States Coast Guard, South Carolina has some of the highest numbers of boat accidents in the country. There were 152 total boating accidents in South Carolina in 2022, resulting in 22 deaths, and alcohol was a contributing factor in 4 of those deaths.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources data shows that there were 38 boating accidents in Horry County in 2021 alone. Of those accidents, 4 were fatal and 19 caused serious injuries. In fact, Horry County posted significantly more boating accidents than any other of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Charleston came in second with 28 boating accidents, and Beaufort came in third with 20. A lion’s share of these Myrtle Beach boating accidents (20 of the 38) happened in the intercoastal waterway, resulting in 10 injuries and 3 deaths.
Who Can File a Myrtle Beach Wrongful Death Case?
Because the victim in a wrongful death case is deceased, folks often wonder who can bring a wrongful death case in Myrtle Beach, SC. This is determined by South Carolina Code Section 15-21-20, which provides the following:
SECTION 15-51-20. Beneficiaries of action for wrongful death; by whom brought.
Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife or husband and child or children of the person whose death shall have been so caused, and, if there be no such wife, husband, child or children, then for the benefit of the parent or parents, and if there be none such, then for the benefit of the heirs of the person whose death shall have been so caused. Every such action shall be brought by or in the name of the executor or administrator of such person.
Pursuant to the statute, only the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate—we sometimes call this person the "personal representative"—can bring a wrongful death claim in South Carolina. This person may be named in the decedent’s will, or they may be appointed by the court.
Who Gets Money in a Wrongful Death Case in South Carolina?
According to SC Code Section 15-21-20, the people that get money from the wrongful death case will depend on who is living at the time of the decedent’s death. If the decedent leaves behind a spouse and children, the proceeds will be distributed to them. If not, the proceeds may be distributed to parents, siblings, or heirs under South Carolina law.
What is a Survival Action, and How is it Different from a Wrongful Death Claim?
While wrongful death claims are for the benefit of the decedent’s family members, a survival action is a claim for the benefit of the deceased victim. The survival action is typically brought for the damages incurred from the time the decedent was injured until the decedent died. For example, if the decedent got into a car crash and suffered serious burns and then did not pass away from those injuries for several days, the survival action would be a way for the deceased person’s estate to claim damages for the decedent’s:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses and burial costs
Not that you can’t get a double recovery. So, if the funeral expenses are paid through the wrongful death claim, you can’t seek those damages in the survival action.
Just as with a wrongful death claim, the survival action is brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. In fact, they’re generally brought together. However, damages in a survival action are part of the decedent’s estate, and thus the distribution of survival action proceeds may be subject to the decedent’s will, whereas the distribution of wrongful death proceeds is determined by statute.
How Do You Win a Wrongful Death Case in South Carolina?
So long as someone didn’t intentionally, kill your loved one, the case will center around negligence. To win a negligence case in South Carolina, whether it’s a personal injury or wrongful death case, the claimant must be able to prove the 4 elements of negligence: (1) Duty; (2) Breach; (3) Causation; and (4) Damages. The claimant must establish all 4 elements by the “preponderance of the evidence,” which just means more likely than not.
- Duty: The first element involves proving that the defendant owed your loved one a duty of care. This just means that the defendant owed your loved one a duty to avoid reckless or careless conduct. For example, when we drive on public roads, we owe other drivers a duty to follow traffic laws and pay attention.
- Breach: The second element involves showing that the defendant breached its duty of care by engaging in some careless or reckless actions or otherwise endangered the victim.
- Causation: The third element involves linking the defendant’s conduct to the harm the victim suffered.
- Damages: The final element involves establishing that damage resulted from your loved one’s death. Your loved one obviously suffered damages because they were killed. However, you also need to establish the family’s losses as a result of the death.
What Compensation is Available in a Myrtle Beach Wrongful Death Case?
A family may be entitled to economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages in a wrongful death case where a loved one died in Myrtle Beach. Economic damages are tangible damages, like medical bills, lost wages, and funeral costs. Noneconomic damages are intangible damages, like pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of support, and loss of companionship.
Clearly, economic damages are easy to add up. However, noneconomic damages are difficult to calculate and require a bit more analysis. Both economic damages and noneconomic damages exist to make people whole—to compensate them for what they’ve lost.
Another type of damages is punitive damages. Punitive damages exist to punish wrongdoers and discourage others from engaging in similar behavior. You can only get punitive damages in a case where the defendant’s behavior was especially egregious, like where a person kills someone while driving drunk. Your Myrtle Beach wrongful death lawyer can help you get maximum compensation and pursue all the damages available in your case.
Frequently Asked Questions for Myrtle Beach Wrongful Death Lawyers
Q1: What constitutes “wrongful death” in South Carolina?
A1: South Carolina Code Section 15-51-10 defines “wrongful death” as a death “caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another” such that the injured person could have brought a personal injury claim if they had survived. Your Myrtle Beach wrongful death attorney can help you determine whether your loved one's death qualifies for a wrongful death action in South Carolina.
Q2: How do you divide a wrongful death settlement?
A2: Wrongful death settlements are divided up according to South Carolina Code Section 15-51-30. Proceeds of wrongful death suits are typically divided among the surviving spouse and children. However, if the decedent isn’t survived by a spouse or children, proceeds may go to parents, siblings, or other heirs.
Q3: What is the difference between wrongful death and survival actions in South Carolina?
A3: Wrongful death claims are for the benefit of the decedent’s family members, to compensate them for their loss, whereas survival actions are for the victim’s damages between the time of injury and the time of death. Wrongful death proceeds are distributed according to statute, while survival action damages are part of the estate and may be distributed according to the decedent’s will.
Q4: Why sue for wrongful death?
A4: A wrongful death lawsuit is a way to get justice for your loved one and hold negligent and reckless people accountable for the harm they cause.
Q5: What is the burden of proof for wrongful death?
A5: The burden of proof for a claimant in a wrongful death claim is the “preponderance of the evidence,” which is a fancy way of saying “more likely than not.” This is a much lower burden than the burden of proof in criminal cases, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Beyond a reasonable doubt is close to 100% certain, while preponderance of the evidence is something more than 50% certainty.
Q6: How much does it cost to speak with Myrtle Beach wrongful death lawyers?
A6: Our firm offers free consultations, so you can call and schedule a consultation with one of our Myrtle Beach wrongful death lawyers today. A call to our law firm is risk free to you.