Losing a loved one is never easy. Grief is a complicated process, and that process can be complicated further when someone dies because of someone else’s negligence. The state of South Carolina allows for 2 different types of claims to be made when someone dies negligently. The first is a survival action, which allows for recovery for injuries the deceased suffered. The second is a wrongful death claim, which allows the beneficiaries and surviving loved ones of someone who died negligently to be compensated for their losses. Wrongful death cases can be complicated but understanding what survivors can be compensated for may make it seem less intimidating.
Defining Wrongful Death
The state of South Carolina defines a wrongful death as one caused by the neglect or wrongful actions of another person. For the death to be considered “wrongful,” the negligent act must have been something the deceased could have filed a legitimate personal injury claim for had they survived. A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit, except it filed on behalf of the person who endured the injuries.
Many fatal incidents can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit, including (but not limited to):
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Commercial truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Abuse and neglect endured at nursing homes
Who Can File Wrongful Death Claims in South Carolina
Many states allow a wrongful death claim to be made by the surviving family and beneficiaries of the person who died. However, South Carolina requires wrongful death claims to be filed by whoever is named the executor of the deceased party’s estate. Executors are often names in wills. However, someone who dies without a will in place will likely have an executor named by the courts on their behalf.
While the executor of the state is required to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit, any resulting settlement will be paid to the family members the deceased party left behind. The specific people who receive the damages depends on how many family members the deceased had. People who can recover wrongful death damages include:
- The spouse and children of the deceased
- The parents of the deceased if they were childless and unmarried
- Heirs of the deceased if there are no living parents, children, or spouse
Proving Wrongful Death
Anyone who brings a wrongful death case before a court will have to prove that their family member died wrongfully, and that the defendant is responsible for that death. This is done by proving the following 4 elements:
- The defendant’s duty: The plaintiffs will have to prove that the defendant owed a duty to the deceased party. For example, if someone died wrongfully in a motor vehicle accident, it could be argued that the driver owed that person the duty to drive safely.
- The breach of the duty: The plaintiffs must also prove that the duty owed to the deceased was breached by the defendant. This can be proved by showing how the defendant behaved in a negligent manner leading up to the accident.
- The injury: It must be proven that the deceased party sustained their injuries during the incident in question.
- The causation: The plaintiffs will have to prove that the injuries were caused specifically by the negligent actions of the defendant and the breach of the duty they owed to the deceased.
It may be intimidating to consider that so many elements need to be proven for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful. However, compiling evidence from as many sources as possible can help make proving these elements simpler. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help someone making a wrongful death claim collect the correct evidence that will be effective in court. Some examples of evidence commonly used in wrongful death lawsuits include:
- Police reports: Many wrongful death lawsuits are brought after fatal accidents. The police are often called after such accidents, and police reports can be instrumental in helping to prove that someone died wrongfully. The officers on the scene will document evidence they see on the scene in such reports and are considered highly credible in court.
- Medical records: Medical records can be used as evidence in a wrongful death suit because they can help prove that the deceased party died because of the negligent actions of the defendant. For example, if someone died due to medical malpractice, errors or discrepancies in their medical records can help prove that.
- Witness accounts: Witness accounts can help prove that the defendant behaved negligently. For example, someone who witnessed the defendant texting while driving leading up to an accident can testify as much in court to prove the duty of safe driving owed to the deceased was breached.
- Financial records: The amount of money family members will receive in a wrongful death settlement may depend in part on how much money the deceased contributed to the household. Pay stubs, tax returns, and other documentation can help prove this.
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits allow family members to seek the damages the deceased party could have sought if they had survived the defendant’s negligent behavior. They also allow family members to seek damages for economic and other losses they personally suffered as a result of the death of their loved one. Some examples of commonly awarded damages in wrongful death claims include:
- Lost wages: Families can sue for compensation the deceased would have received in a personal injury lawsuit for the income they lost due to the accident. They can also sue for an estimated income the deceased would have generated over their lifetime had they survived the accident.
- Medical expenses: A wrongful death settlement can include compensation for the medical care they received after the accident. For example, ambulance bills, emergency room bills, and more can be covered.
- Pain and suffering: Victims of a wrongful death may experience pain and suffering prior to their actual death. Someone who files a wrongful death lawsuit may be eligible to receive compensation similar to what the deceased would have received for their pain and suffering if they had survived.
- Funeral expenses: Funerals are expensive, and the cost of a burial and a funeral can be reimbursed to a family member who files a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased.
- Punitive damages: Punitive damages are imposed on a defendant as punishment for their negligent behavior and can be added to a settlement paid to the family members of someone who died wrongfully.
When Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Need to Be Filed?
Every state sets a legal time limit on the filing of wrongful death claims. This time limit is known legally as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in South Carolina is 3 years. This means that a wrongful death claim must be filed within 3 years of the day the person died. Most courts will not hear a case that is filed after this timeframe has passed.
What Is a Survival Action?
The state of South Carolina allows for survival actions in addition to wrongful death claims. Survival actions differ from wrongful death claims in that they brought on behalf of and for the benefit of the deceased party. These lawsuits allow the estate of someone who died wrongfully to recover for damages from the time between when the incident occurred and when the individual died. These lawsuits do not allow for recover for damages incurred after the person died, aside from funeral costs.
A survival action must be brought by the executor of the deceased party’s estate, similarly to a wrongful death claim. These lawsuits are usually filed alongside a wrongful death claim.
Reach Out for Help
If your loved one died due to the negligence of another person or entity, contact Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC today. We can help you file a wrongful death claim and compile effective evidence to fight for the compensation you deserve. We are dedicated to helping grieving families seek justice for their loved ones. Our goal is to help you recover the maximum compensation possible to give you peace of mind. Reach out today at (843) 968-0886 or online to schedule a consultation.