Wrongful Death Claims in South Carolina
Losing a loved one because of another party’s negligence or wrongful act is devastating.
Nobody should have to experience the death of a spouse, parent, child, or sibling because another person was not careful or behaved recklessly. Yet wrongful deaths do occur, and they happen more often than they should.
It may feel impossible even to consider filing a wrongful death claim while dealing with the emotional and psychological consequences of losing a loved one. The Greenville wrongful death attorneys at Peace Law Firm know how overwhelming the prospect of a lawsuit can be.
At the same time, we also know that filing a wrongful death claim in South Carolina may allow you to hold the responsible party accountable to recover compensation for some of your losses. Aggressively pursuing a wrongful death action could help you find some form of closure as well.
Financial compensation cannot bring back a loved one, but it can clarify that the wrongdoer must be held accountable for their wrongful actions. The dedicated South Carolina wrongful death lawyers at Peace Law Firm are ready when you are to discuss the benefits of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina.
What Is "Wrongful Death" in South Carolina?
The first question you might have about filing a wrongful death lawsuit is this: What is a wrongful death under South Carolina law?
South Carolina Law (S.C. Code §§ 15-51-10 through 15-51-210) defines a wrongful death action as any civil lawsuit that arises out of a person’s death, where that death was “caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.” Also, the wrongful act, neglect, or default would have allowed the deceased to file a personal injury claim if she or he had survived.
South Carolina’s wrongful death statute stems from the law of negligence. Under South Carolina’s tort law, an injured person has the right to file a claim against the person who caused their injury or loss. Similarly, South Carolina’s wrongful death statute allows certain people to file a claim for the loss of their loved one.
Recognizing that sometimes wrongful actions and negligence result in a person’s death, wrongful death law allows another person to step into the shoes of the deceased and to file a claim for compensation.
Who Can File a South Carolina Wrongful Death Claim?
South Carolina law makes clear that any wrongful death action must be brought “by or in the name of the executor or administrator” of the deceased’s estate.
What does this mean in practice?
In short, if an executor is named in the deceased’s will—such as a spouse or adult child—then that person typically will be the one to bring a wrongful death claim. Yet, it is important to understand that the executor is seeking compensation on behalf of only certain persons according to the statute.
Regardless of who the executor or administrator of the estate might be, a wrongful death lawsuit can be brought on behalf of the following beneficiaries:
- Wife or husband (spouse) of the deceased;
- Child or children of the deceased;
- Parent or parents of the deceased (only if there is no spouse or child); or
- Heirs of the deceased (if there is no spouse, child, or surviving parent of the deceased).
South Carolina’s wrongful death law provides for the distribution of any financial award among family members. Spouses and children receive a greater share than other family members.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina
When a person dies, they often leave surviving family members with financial worries, grief, medical expenses, and more.
The decedent’s beneficiaries deserve compensation for these losses. For this reason, the State of South Carolina allows those in a wrongful death action to seek damages for losses. These include medical expenses, lost wages and benefits, and the loss of earning capacity.
South Carolina also allows the victim’s family to seek non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include the value of the loss of the decedent’s comfort, knowledge, parenting, companionship, and protection.
Finally, if the defendant’s recklessness, willfulness, or malice caused death, there may be a claim for punitive damages.
Proving an SC Wrongful Death Claim
The executive or administrator of a deceased person’s estate files wrongful death claims in South Carolina. They file for the benefit of the deceased’s beneficiaries, such as a surviving spouse, children, or parents.
The party who is bringing forth the action must prove that:
- The defendant owed the deceased person a duty of care;
- The defendant breached the duty of care owed to the decedent via a wrongful act, act of neglect, or default; and
- The victim’s death would not have occurred, but for the defendant’s actions.
The burden of proof is lower in a civil case than it is in a criminal case. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s fault beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a civil case, the plaintiff only needs to prove the defendant’s legal responsibility by the preponderance of the evidence.
Civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions are separate legal actions. However, there can be some overlap between the two. The local prosecutor can pursue homicide charges—for example, motor vehicle homicide for a deadly car crash caused by a drunk driver. The plaintiff in a wrongful death claim can use much of the evidence from the criminal case in the wrongful death suit’s criminal case.
There is one critical difference between criminal prosecutions and a wrongful death suit. A “not guilty” verdict from a jury does not stop the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit from filing a claim. The different lower standard of proof allows the plaintiffs to collect damages even if a jury acquitted the defendant of criminal charges.
Time Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina
For a wrongful death claim, the South Carolina statute of limitations begins “ticking” on the date of death instead of the date of the injury. Also, only certain people may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and they may be entitled to additional damages related to the loss of their loved one.
In practical terms, that means the plaintiffs must file their wrongful death action within three years from the date their loved one died. Missing the deadline for the statute of limitations means that the victim’s family cannot seek compensation for the wrongful death.
Contacting an experienced and successful South Carolina wrongful death attorney can help you avoid missing the statute of limitations and hold all responsible parties accountable.
Call Peace Law Firm to Learn What We Can Do for You and Your Family in this Difficult Time
South Carolina wrongful death attorney John Peace and his staff with the Peace Law Firm keep your best interests at heart. We understand that filing a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit cannot bring your loved one back.
However, fighting for justice to hold everyone who played a role in your loved one’s death liable can help honor the memory of the person you hold dear.