When a loved one dies, surviving family members need time for grief and to provide mutual support. One of the last things they want to deal with in this time of grief is consulting with an attorney and deciding whether to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, a wrongful death often leaves surviving family members in a precarious financial situation. They may have been relying on the income of the decedent, have expensive medical bills or funeral expenses, or mental anguish that is so severe that it interferes with their work or income.
This is why some of the most common questions that people who are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit have are: What kind of damages am I entitled to under South Carolina law? What damages am I likely to receive?
Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The following types of damages are available in a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina:
Lost wages –income that the decedent would have earned;
Medical bills – medical expenses that are related to treatment of the injuries that caused the wrongful death;
Property damage – damage to property – such as a wrecked car – may be recoverable;
Pain and suffering – damages related to the pain and suffering of the decedent’s family members;
Loss of care and companionship – family members may be able to recover damages to compensate them for the loss of the decedent’s care, companionship, and protection.
Punitive damages – punitive damages, or damages to punish the defendant, may be available depending on whether the defendant’s conduct was reckless or intentional.
Damage Caps in South Carolina
There are two important “damage caps” – limitations on the amount of damages that a plaintiff can receive – in South Carolina. The first is a cap on the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive in a wrongful death lawsuit based on medical malpractice. This cap would apply, for example, if the plaintiff was suing a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare provider. South Carolina limits the amount of non-economic damages (damages like pain and suffering) that a plaintiff can receive to $350,000 against a single health care provider. If the plaintiff sues multiple health care providers, they can receive up to $1.05 million, but no more than $350,000 from any single provider.
The other damage cap that applies in South Carolina is a cap on punitive damages. This cap applies regardless of whether the lawsuit is based on medical malpractice. In South Carolina, punitive damages are limited to no greater than three times the amount of actual damages that is awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In South Carolina, a wrongful death lawsuit can only be filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate. In many instances, the administrator or executor is a family member of the decedent. However, in other cases, the administrator or executor may be a third party who brings the claim on behalf of any surviving family members.