A South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit is the type of lawsuit a family can bring when a person kills their loved one through an act of negligence or recklessness, or if the person acted intentionally. A personal injury lawsuit, on the other hand, is the type of claim a person can bring when they are injured by another person. Whereas a personal injury lawsuit is typically brought by the injured person, the injured person in the wrongful death lawsuit is deceased. Thus, wrongful death lawsuits are brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. Accordingly, once the parties in a wrongful death lawsuit reach a settlement or a favorable verdict, the money is distributed to the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased person in accordance with South Carolina law, or the proceeds may be distributed to the in accordance with the deceased person’s will.
The untimely loss of a loved one is something nobody should have to go through. What has been taken from you cannot be brought back. This is an injustice, and it’s wrong. Additionally, you and your family should not be saddled with bills and costs that you didn’t ask for. We can’t guarantee results at our law firm, but we can guarantee a fight. If a person, business, or property owner took a loved one from you, a South Carolina wrongful death attorney at Spetsas Buist is ready to fight for you and your family. We offer free consultations with a licensed South Carolina attorney.
What is Wrongful Death in South Carolina?
Wrongful death in South Carolina is defined by Section 15-51-10 of the South Carolina Code. The South Carolina Code provides that wrongful death is a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another. Essentially, wrongful death is where a person dies as a result of a situation that the person would have been able to bring a lawsuit and recover damages had the person not died. The “wrongful” in “wrongful death” implies that a person’s legal rights were infringed upon, and the person died as a result of that “wrong.”
Common Causes of Wrongful Death Lawsuits in South Carolina
If a person or company kills another because of negligence or recklessness, the deceased person’s family may have a viable wrongful death claim. As you can imagine, there are many ways a negligent or reckless person could kill someone. However, there are some causes of wrongful death lawsuits that are more common than others. Below are some of the most common causes of wrongful death lawsuits in South Carolina:
- Trucking Accidents;
- Car Accidents;
- Boating Accidents;
- School Bus Accidents;
- Train Accidents;
- Pedestrian Accidents;
- Motorcycle Accidents;
- Bicycle Accidents;
- Medical Malpractice;
- Vicious Animal Attacks;
- Rideshare Accidents, like Uber and Lyft; and
- Any serious accident or injury.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
As we have mentioned, a personal injury claim is typically brought by the injured person. In a South Carolina wrongful death case, however, the wronged person has died and obviously cannot bring a lawsuit. So, that leaves us with this question: Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina?
The answer to this question is in Section 15-51-20 of the South Carolina Code. The Code provides that the action shall be brought “by or in the name of the executor or administrator” of the deceased person’s estate. Therefore, a typical early step in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit is to get an executor or personal representative appointed because the lawsuit may not be brought without the personal representative.
Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
Once a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina settles or if there is a verdict at trial, who are the beneficiaries of that settlement or judgment? The answer to this question is at Section 15-51-20 of the South Carolina Code. The Code says that a wrongful death action in South Carolina shall be for the benefit of the spouse and children of the deceased person. If there is no spouse or child, then the wrongful death action shall be for the benefit of the parents of the deceased person. If there are no living parents either, then the wrongful death action shall be for the benefit of the heirs of the deceased person.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in South Carolina?
The statute of limitations sets a time limit for legal claims. In other words, you must bring your lawsuit within the statute of limitations, or you lose the right to bring that claim. Section 15-3-530 of the South Carolina Code provides that a wrongful death lawsuit must be brought within three (3) years of the date of the person’s death. Notably, the death could occur days or weeks after the event or accident that eventually caused the person’s death.
If the wrongful death claim arose as a result of a medical malpractice incident, the statute of limitations would be determined by Section 15-3-545 of the South Carolina Code. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice begins running at the date of the actual incident that caused the patient’s damages, or it will start running when the patient discovered or should have discovered the injuries. In other words, if the damages from the medical malpractice incident are not apparent, the clock may not start running until they become apparent. Finally, medical malpractice actions are subject to a statute of repose, which essentially says that a medical malpractice action may not be brought after 6 years, regardless of when the injuries were discovered.
Here's a quick hypothetical. Let’s suppose Dan gets into an 18-wheeler accident in South Carolina on I-95 near Columbia on January 1. As a result of those injuries, Dan dies on January 15. In this situation, the statute of limitations on Dan’s wrongful death action is 3 years from January 15. However, if Dan had survived, the statute of limitations for his personal injury claim would likely have been calculated from January 1, the date of the accident.
What are the Damages in a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The damages available in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit will likely include any damages that would have been available to the deceased person if the deceased person had not died. In addition, the damages in a South Carolina wrongful death claim may also include damages suffered by the close family members. Below are some of the more common types of damages available in a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit.
If a person does not die instantly as a result of a tragic event, there can be huge medical bills associated with that person’s death. There could be costs associated with transportation, like an ambulance, as well as any surgical procedures and hospital stays. Any medical bills and emergency room bills may be covered in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit.
When a person dies, the family will typically have to spend a tremendous amount of money on funeral expenses. The costs associated with the funeral and burial may be covered in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit.
When a person dies, there may be others who were dependent on that person. Those people can find themselves in a horrible financial position when their provider and caretaker is taken from them. Just as a person may recover lost wages in a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina, the executor in a South Carolina wrongful death action may be able to recover lost wages that the deceased person would have earned over a lifetime, had the deceased not been killed by the negligent or reckless actor.
Pain and Suffering
Injuries can take hours, days, or even weeks to kill a person. In that period between injury and death, the person may suffer tremendously. For example, people injured in a car accident that results in a fire may take days to die from their injuries. The whole time, they are in excruciating pain. If the person were to live through the injuries, the person would certainly be able to recover for its pain and suffering in a personal injury lawsuit. In the same way, the plaintiff in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit can recover for the deceased person’s pain and suffering because those are damages the deceased person could have recovered had they not died from the injuries.
Punitive damages are a way to punish egregious behavior in South Carolina. Pursuant to Section 15-32-520 of the South Carolina Code, punitive damages may only be awarded where the defendant engaged in “wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct.” In other words, punitive damages are reserved for only the worst types of behavior.
Let’s say Tommy Trucker has had 4 DUIs and is nevertheless driving a truck for Trucking Company. In fact, Trucking Company has kept Tommy on through all the DUIs because Tommy can drive for days without sleeping. Let’s say Tommy gets hammered and hops behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler and heads out to interstate 26 heading North from Charleston. While driving drunk somewhere between Charleston and Columbia, Tommy hits Pete Plaintiff, flipping Pete’s car and causing fatal injuries. Here, we’re looking at egregious behavior on the part of both Tommy and the Trucking Company that permitted Tommy to keep driving. Tommy engaged in egregious behavior because he drove drunk. Trucking Company also engaged in egregious behavior because it knew Tommy drove drunk, and it also knew Tommy drove more hours than permitted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Therefore, the plaintiff in Pete’s wrongful death lawsuit may be able to seek punitive damages against both Tommy and the Trucking Company. Although Tommy may not have much money or a big insurance policy, Trucking Company almost certainly will, and that money may very well go to Pete’s family as a result of the wrongful death claim.
How Much is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth in South Carolina?
What is a person’s life worth? Well, when I was getting my legal education a decade ago, a life was worth somewhere around $7 million. Now, that number is closer to $10 million. At the end of the day, the damages are not calculated based on the value of the deceased person’s life, but it’s in the back of everyone’s mind. The truth is that many wrongful death lawsuits are settled quietly and for policy limits. Therefore, how much a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit is worth can depend upon the insurance policy or policies involved.
How Do You Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
Wrongful death lawsuits in South Carolina are very similar to negligence lawsuits. The real difference is the plaintiff, as we have discussed above. Thus, as with any negligence case, the plaintiff in a wrongful death action will need to show the following:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty to act as a reasonable person under the circumstances;
- The defendant breached that duty;
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused the victim to suffer injuries;
- The victim’s injuries resulted in damages to the victim and the victim’s close family.
The four elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages are the foundation for any negligence claim in South Carolina.
Contact a South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney
If a negligent or reckless person took your loved one from you, you may have a viable wrongful death claim. Contact a South Carolina wrongful death attorney at Spetsas Buist to have a free conversation with our South Carolina wrongful death attorney, Charles Buist. Mr. Buist has longstanding ties to South Carolina and comes from a long line of Charleston, South Carolina attorneys. Like those that came before him, Mr. Buist has dedicated his life to helping his clients. Don’t hesitate to call us at 843-638-6590 to schedule your free legal consultation with Mr. Buist.