South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney
Losing a loved one comes with many undue emotional and financial hardships. Families who are grieving a recent death should be aware that they have legal options to recover from those responsible for causing the death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim against a party whose negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct caused a death. The claim is brought on behalf of the deceased’s beneficiaries, which are typically a surviving spouse or children. The decedent’s estate may also pursue a survival action, which functions similarly to a wrongful death lawsuit but with different benefits. These claims must be filed within three years of the death in question.
To help you get started on your path to justice for the death of a loved one, Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers offer free case evaluations for anyone who is considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit or survival action. Our dedicated South Carolina wrongful death attorneys can answer any questions that you may have and will provide the effective and discrete representation that your case requires. To hear more, call us at (803) 451-4000.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, the family members of a person who dies as a result of someone else’s actions (or failure to act) can pursue a civil lawsuit against those responsible. The specific law allows for claims where a person’s death was caused by the a wrongful act or negligence. This type of lawsuit is called a wrongful death lawsuit. If successful, these suits can help to compensate the families after they have suffered such a difficult loss.
Proving a wrongful death has occurred is a lot like proving a personal injury. A personal injury lawsuit requires a showing that the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior ultimately caused the victim’s injuries. A wrongful death lawsuit has the same requirements, except that you must show that the conduct caused the victim’s death. Another key difference is that the damages for a wrongful death lawsuit are calculated based on the harms the decedent’s beneficiaries suffered because of their loss, and are distributed directly to the beneficiaries.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death in South Carolina?
In order to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the death needs to qualify as a “wrongful death” in the first place. As mentioned above, a wrongful death typically involves a “wrongful act” (such as murder) or negligence (such as an accident). This is essentially the same language used in S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-10, which authorizes a wrongful death lawsuit for any “wrongful act” or “neglect” that causes death.
The last specific qualifier that the law applies is that the situation must be one where the victim – had they instead survived – would have been able to file a lawsuit for damages. This essentially puts some technical limitations on when a wrongful death lawsuit applies by incorporating the typical elements of a negligence lawsuit: there must be some violation of a legal duty that caused the death or injury. This means that if the accident occurred without any violation of a legal duty, there can be no lawsuit. Additionally, if there was some intervening cause that cut off the defendant’s fault in the accident, the lawsuit cannot be filed against that defendant.
Alternatively, lawsuits can also be filed for intentional or reckless acts. Those certainly qualify as “wrongful acts,” and the victim would have also been able to sue had they survived and the case was dealing with assault and battery instead of murder or manslaughter.
All in all, some examples of common wrongful death cases involve the following:
- Murder or manslaughter
- Car accidents
- Accidents on someone else’s property (e.g., falls)
- Building collapses
- Medical malpractice
- Toxic exposure/poisoning
- Defective products, medication, auto parts, etc.
Talk to our South Carolina wrongful death lawyers if your loved one was killed in any of these accidents or another type of accident.
What Is a Survival Action in South Carolina?
Separate from a wrongful death lawsuit, a survival action is another path by which the loved ones of a wrongful death victim may obtain justice. We would not call it an “alternative” path, however, because South Carolina allows both a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action to coexist based on the same circumstances.
Proving a survival action requires all of the same evidence as a wrongful death lawsuit. However, a survival action is even more like a personal injury lawsuit, because the damages are based on the harms that the decedent suffered prior to their death, such as pain and suffering and medical expenses. The damages that are ultimately awarded go to the decedent’s estate, where they will be distributed according to the decedent’s will if they had one. If not, the compensation will go through intestacy with the rest of their assets.
Difference Between Wrongful Death Lawsuit and Criminal Prosecution
It can be easy to confuse a civil suit against a person or entity that caused a wrongful death with the criminal case against them. However, the two are very different, and it is important for families and loved ones to know how.
First, the prosecution’s goal in a criminal case is to secure a conviction, which may include fines in addition to jail time. However, neither the grieving family nor the estate of the deceased will see a dime from those fines. If you want financial compensation from those responsible for causing your loved one’s untimely death, a civil suit is your best option.
Second, a criminal case puts a higher burden on the prosecution than a wrongful death lawsuit puts on the plaintiff. In order to secure a guilty verdict for criminal charges, the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a much higher hurdle than the burden for civil wrongful death suits, which is “a preponderance of the evidence,” or substantially more likely than not. Therefore, even if the responsible party is found not guilty in their criminal trial, the beneficiaries in a wrongful death may still succeed in their claim.
Third, the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit may be responsible for causing the death even if they did not commit an actual crime. Even if there are no criminal charges brought against the responsible party, you should still consult a South Carolina wrongful death attorney about your civil suit options.
Who Can File and Benefit from a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, the executor of the deceased’s estate is in charge of filing the wrongful death lawsuit. The executor may be identified in the deceased’s will, but if not, or if the named executor does not want the role, the court will appoint one. A beneficiary of the wrongful death lawsuit may serve as the executor.
Prior to filing the lawsuit, the executor, together with a South Carolina wrongful death lawyer, is responsible for identifying and notifying all potential beneficiaries to a wrongful death lawsuit. Not everyone can be named as a beneficiary to the suit. South Carolina always recognizes any surviving spouse and children of the deceased as beneficiaries.
If the deceased did not leave behind a spouse or children, the parents may be beneficiaries. If none of these parties survive the decedent’s death, other parties may be named, such as siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren. Talk to your South Carolina wrongful death lawyer about whether you can be named as a beneficiary in a lawsuit for the death of your loved one.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina?
Every personal injury and wrongful death case is governed by a “statute of limitations.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530 sets the general statute of limitations for injury and wrongful death cases at three years. This means that victims of accidents have three years to sue for damages, and the families of deceased wrongful death victims also have three years to sue for that death.
Under subsection (6) of that statute, the three-year limitations period for wrongful death cases begins running at the death of the victim rather than the date of the accident. This means that, for example, if your loved one lingered for days or weeks after a serious car crash before dying, the time they spent in the hospital does not count against the three-year filing deadline.
Cases involving lawsuits against the government and lawsuit for medical malpractice deaths have special rules.
Cases Against the Government
S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-110 – part of the Tort Claims Act – restricts lawsuits against the government so that they must be filed within two years instead. There are some ways to extend this deadline, but they are limited.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are sometimes given a two-year filing deadline under § 15-3-545. Generally, the three-year deadline applies for things like deaths caused by misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and more. However, for deaths caused by items left inside the patient during surgery, the date typically runs from two years of the discovery of this mistake. At the latest, that discovery will typically happen during an autopsy or postmortem exam, giving families approximately two years from the date of death to file.
What Damages Are Available in a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Damages in wrongful death cases are governed by S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-40. Under this statute, damages for a wrongful death lawsuit are not restricted to any particular area of damages. This means that both economic and non-economic damages are available. Additionally, the statute explicitly allows “exemplary damages.”
Note that these damages are separate from those you can claim on the deceased victim’s behalf in a survival action.
The deceased’s family can claim economic damages to cover any financial harm they faced because of their loved one’s death. These damages typically include the ongoing financial harm of losing a spouse or parent who previously provided things like income, help around the house, counsel and advice, and more.
All in all, these damages can be quite expensive and often pay for the cost of replacement labor around the house, childcare costs, lost income, and more.
Calculating these damages can be difficult and is best done with the help of an experienced South Carolina wrongful death lawyer. Often, we will need to use financial experts and other subject matter experts to calculate these costs as well. Calculating the future lost earnings for your deceased loved one is often a complex matter and involves projecting how much money they would have made (including raises and promotions) until their natural retirement age. Calculating the cost of lost household labor, childcare, counsel, etc. often requires looking at the cost of replacement services.
Talk to our South Carolina wrongful death lawyers about what economic damages apply in your specific case.
When a loved one dies, many of the harms and losses your family faces cannot be reflected in financial statements and bills. The grief, loss of companionship, lost affection, and other emotional and intangible losses can be reflected in non-economic damages. These payments will not replace a loved one, but they can attempt to compensate you for the loss.
Each family member who can receive damages can receive their fair share of these damages. For example, the spouse of the deceased might face the most harm and receive the highest non-economic damages, while children might each receive a slightly smaller share for a lost parent. Damages for the death of a child might not involve much by way of economic damages, but the non-economic damages can be high.
“Exemplary” damages – often called “punitive damages” – are used to punish the defendant for their wrongful acts. These damages are paid without regard to the harms and damages the family faced, but rather how bad the defendant’s behavior was. These damages are not available in every case, and the statute only authorizes them for cases involving reckless acts, willful acts, or “malice.” Talk to our South Carolina wrongful death lawyers about claiming exemplary damages in your case.
Call Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers About Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina
When you are dealing with such a sensitive and personal issue, you deserve legal care from the South Carolina wrongful death lawyers who understand it. Call Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers today at (803) 451-4000.