What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death is defined under South Carolina Code § 15-51-10 as a death “caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another.” South Carolina Code § 15-51-20 establishes that a wrongful death claim needs to be brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate.
South Carolina state law also provides that a wrongful death action is for the benefit of the deceased’s spouse and child or children. If none of those parties exist, then the claim is for the benefit of the parent or parents of the deceased. When there is no spouse, child, children, or parents, the lawsuit is for the benefit of the heirs of the deceased.
South Carolina Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
South Carolina Code § 15-3-530 places a three-year statute of limitations on actions for death by wrongful acts. The limitations period begins to run on the date of the person’s death, which may be different from the date of the accident that caused their fatal injuries.
It is important to note that South Carolina Code § 15-3-545 establishes a similar three-year statute of limitations for actions involving medical malpractice, but the limitations period in such cases begins to run on the date an injury is discovered or “reasonably ought to have been discovered.” In no case can an action based on medical malpractice be brought more than six years after the occurrence of such an injury.
SC Wrongful Death Statistics: How Often Do Deadly Accidents Happen?
The Sun News reported that 933 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in South Carolina. The counties with the highest totals were Greenville County with 81 deaths, Horry County with 66 deaths, and Richland County with 63 deaths.
WPDE-TV reported that South Carolina was the third deadliest state in the nation for drunk driving deaths, but was 20th in DUI arrests. South Carolina’s rate of 7.6 drunk driving deaths per 100,000 people trailed only Montana’s 9.0 and North Dakota’s 10.3.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 146,571 unintentional injury deaths in the United States during one recent year. The CDC reported that:
- Accidental falls caused 33,381 of those unintentional injury deaths.
- 37,757 were motor vehicle traffic deaths.
- 47,478 involved accidental poisoning.
According to the CDC, unintentional injuries resulted in 30.8 million emergency department visits.
According to the South Carolina Traffic Collision Fact Book:
- One traffic collision occurs in South Carolina every 3.7 minutes.
- One fatal accident happens every 9.3 hours.
- A person is killed every 8.6 hours.
- A person is killed in a drunk driving crash involving a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher every 26.5 hours.
- A teen driver is involved in a fatal or injury collision every 1.3 hours.
- A bicyclist is killed every 15.3 days.
- A motorcyclist is killed every 2.5 days.
- A pedestrian is killed every 2.5 days.
- A child under 6 years of age is killed every 8 days.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 117 fatal occupational injuries in South Carolina in one recent year. Of these:
- 54 were the result of transportation incidents.
- 17 were the result of violence and other injuries by persons or animals.
- 17 were the result of contact with objects and equipment.
- 16 were the result of falls, slips, or trips.
- 10 were the result of exposure to harmful substances or environments.
- 3 were the result of fires and explosions.
The BLS reported 87 fatalities were wage and salary employees while 30 were self-employed, while 103 victims were men and 14 were women.
How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina?
Most wrongful death lawsuits contend that the negligence of another party killed a person. The wrongful death action will need to prove the same four elements central to a negligence claim:
- Duty of Care — The negligent party had a duty to the victim to conduct themselves safely and reasonably.
- Breach of Duty — The negligent party breached that duty of care by not conducting themselves safely and reasonably.
- Causation — The negligent party’s breach of the duty of care caused the victim’s injuries.
- Damages — The victim’s injuries resulted in damages.
Most people accused of causing a wrongful death will deny liability, and their insurance companies may even argue that the victim was at fault for their death. The deceased is unable to defend themselves against these types of accusations, but Stewart Law Offices will fight for justice for your loved one and seek to hold the negligent party accountable.
Compensation for an SC Wrongful Death Claim
Many wrongful death lawsuits are ultimately resolved through settlements. A settlement is usually agreed to when it is an amount that will cover all of the expenses a family is expected to incur because of a loved one’s death.
When an insurance company refuses to provide an adequate settlement, then a lawsuit could be filed, and the case may go to trial. If the victim is successful, they could be awarded various compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages could include economic damages for easily calculable losses such as medical bills and funeral and burial expenses, as well as noneconomic damages for emotional distress or loss of consortium. In a limited number of cases, a victim could also be awarded punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded only when a person is killed by a defendant’s willful, reckless, or wanton conduct. Punitive damages cannot be more than three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. The idea of punitive damages is to punish defendants for egregious conduct, such as drunk driving.
Justice for Your Loved One in a Wrongful Death Action
The sudden and unexpected death of a loved one creates immediate confusion and grief among surviving family members. Wrongful death actions are never the first thing on people’s minds, but it is essential for family members to take specific steps after fatal accidents.
Because South Carolina requires a wrongful death action to be filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate, it is usually wise for a family to ensure the proper person is appointed as executor or administrator. The vital records of the deceased will also need to be collected.
The most important thing people can do is quickly contact a personal injury lawyer. Families should make sure to do this before speaking to any insurance company.
Some insurers will act quickly to offer lump-sum settlements to resolve these cases, but the settlement offers are usually much less than what victims are entitled to. Do not allow any family member to negotiate with an insurance company without authorization.