Hughey Law FirmThe sudden passing of a loved one creates a painful void for families. The mental anguish of losing a spouse, parent, child, or another loved one worsens when financial burden enters the picture. Costs for medical treatment, loss of income, and other factors related to loss sometimes create economic hardship compounding stress and grief. It makes matters worse knowing your loved one would still be with you if not for the careless actions of another person or business. Read on to learn how to recover compensation through the at fault party from our experienced South Carolina wrongful death lawyers.

South Carolina law permits eligible surviving family members to seek damages in civil court by bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible for your loss. Monetary compensation will not bring your loved one back to you, turn back the clock, or heal the emotional pain you are suffering. Yet, recovering damages after a wrongful death could help pay for costs associated with your loss.

If you have recently lost a loved one, you might be eligible to receive compensation depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the deceased. Contact the experienced South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Hughey Law Firm online or at (843) 881-8644 for a free initial consultation to discuss the details of your wrongful death lawsuit and determine the best course of action for you and your family.

Hughey Law Firm’s Results in Wrongful Death Claims

The compassionate and dedicated personal injury lawyers at Hughey Law Firm have recovered more than $100 million in settlements and jury awards for our clients.

Recent case results in wrongful death claims include:

  • $3,375,000 for a family whose loved one escaped from a group home and was struck by a drunk driver.
  • $2,000,000 settlement for family members after a drunk driver killed their loved one in a car accident.
  • $1,375,000 for a family whose autistic son was killed in a hit-and-run accident by a drunk driver.
  • $975,000 medical malpractice wrongful death suit when a couple’s baby suffered fatal injuries during childbirth.
  • $750,000 for a family whose loved one suffered abuse in a group home that ultimately led to his death.
  • $350,000 after a loved one died when a biopsy of the pancreas led to organ failure.
  • $340,000 after a loved one died from complete neglect in a nursing home.
  • $275,000 for a nursing home resident’s family after their loved one died from neglected pressure sores that became infected.
  • $235,000 for family members after a nursing home resident suffered multiple falls and a fatal brain injury.

The above serve as examples, and do not guarantee a financial outcome for your wrongful death claim. Each case has its own distinctive circumstances and underlying facts that can add to or detract from its value. The award-winning legal team at Hughey Law Firm, however, has experience in negotiating, settling, and litigating wrongful death claims.

The commitment that our attorneys have to professional excellence includes building cases for clients, resulting in higher chances of compensation after the loss of a loved one. And we will treat you with the care and respect you deserve after the tragic loss of a loved one.

South Carolina’s Definition of Wrongful Death

Sometimes we suddenly lose our loved ones long before expected, and long before they had the chance to live out their lives. Yet, every tragic loss is not wrongful death. Under South Carolina law, a wrongful death occurs when “the wrongful act, neglect or default of another” leads to another’s death. South Carolina law also requires that your loved one must have had grounds to sue an individual or other party for damages related to injuries, had she or he survived the injuries.

You can think of a wrongful death claim as a personal injury lawsuit in which someone takes legal action against a liable party on behalf of the deceased. In fact, eligible family survivors must hire an attorney to bring a lawsuit; family members cannot directly sue for damages in South Carolina.

Eligible Family Members in South Carolina Wrongful Death Claims

Under South Carolina law, only certain family members have the legal right to hire an attorney to file a wrongful death claim after the loss of a loved one. Estate laws about succession also impact who can take action.

Eligible family members in South Carolina wrongful death claims include:

  • Surviving spouses
  • Unmarried partners who have children with the deceased
  • Children, regardless of whether parents were married
  • Parents of the deceased, if no spouse or children exist
  • Heir(s) at law when the deceased has no spouse, no children, and parents have died

Wrongful Deaths Occur in Many Situations

Fatal injuries or intentional harm leading to death can occur in a wide array of situations. Below, we cover some common scenarios in which someone might suffer fatal harm, leading their survivors to pursue legal action:

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Traffic accidents cause the most wrongful deaths. Drivers and occupants in car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents face fatal injuries even in “minor” accidents. South Carolina’s Department of Public Safety collects and records annual data on traffic collisions throughout the state.

They provide these alarming statistics:

  • One fatal traffic collision occurs every nine hours on South Carolina’s roads.
  • One person loses their life in a traffic accident every eight and a half hours in South Carolina.
  • One person is killed in an alcohol-related collision approximately every 30 hours.
  • One motorcyclist dies in a South Carolina traffic crash about every three days.
  • Approximately two bicyclists die in traffic accidents each month.
  • Every two days, a pedestrian dies in a traffic accident on South Carolina roads.

Traffic accidents have many causes, almost all of which are preventable. Careless drivers who violate traffic regulations, drink and drive, drive while drowsy, or succumb to driving distractions like cell phones, put others on the road at risk for accidents that lead to fatal injuries. Reckless drivers who cause fatal traffic crashes open themselves up to financial liability in a wrongful death claim.

Workplace Accidents

The average workday for most Americans is at least nine hours long, often more. The longer someone spends at work, the higher likelihood of suffering a fatal workplace injury. Yet, some jobs are far more dangerous than others. According to the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), approximately 100 workplace fatalities occur each year in South Carolina.

Although the numbers vary each year, the trends are similar; approximately half of all fatal workplace accidents in South Carolina are transportation-related accidents. Other workplace fatalities occur as a result of contact with heavy machinery, dangerous explosions, fires, and exposure to toxic chemicals or other harmful substances.

Taking legal action is especially important if your loved one’s employer does not carry mandatory workers’ compensation insurance. Wrongful death claims that occur because of workplace accidents are complex claims that can include multiple parties, such as business owners, property owners, contractors, drivers, and other third parties. A wrongful death attorney, like those at Hughey Law Firm, can evaluate your case and find the best path to accountability for those who caused the death of your loved one.

Slip and Fall Accidents

Unintentional slip and fall accidents are the most common type of accident occurring on someone else’s property. Under South Carolina law, property owners have a legal duty to maintain a safe environment for visitors. Owners must also warn visitors of any known dangerous conditions or hazards, and are responsible for dangers they should have known about.

Negligent property owners who do not take care of their property, or warn others of danger, open themselves up to financial liability in a wrongful death lawsuit if someone suffers a fatal injury. Slip and fall accidents are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, which can be fatal in some cases.

A slip and fall accident can occur as a result of poorly maintained steps or flooring. For example, someone can fall when a handrail is loose or a step breaks in an old building. Loose carpeting, broken ceramic tiles, and uneven wood floors are also sometimes sources of dangerous slip and fall accidents, as well as uncleared trash and debris and slippery floors. Any one of these reasons could easily lead to a serious brain injury after hitting your head.

Medical Malpractice

The sudden and tragic loss of a family member creates unimaginable pain and grief for families, but when that death is a result of medical error or medical negligence, the devastation is worse. We turn to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to diagnose and treat our injuries, illnesses, and diseases.

Medical professionals have a legal obligation to provide an acceptable standard of care. Failure to provide that care sometimes leads to death, not only causing unbearable loss but damaging our trust in the medical profession.

Many actions and failures can fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice.

Examples that might lead to death and give rise to a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Failure or misdiagnosis of illness or disease
  • Unnecessary surgeries
  • Leaving a foreign object in a patient after surgery and other surgical errors
  • Failure to get a patient’s complete medical history
  • Early discharge of a patient or failure to provide proper follow-up care
  • Pharmaceutical errors including the wrong dosage and/or the wrong medicine
  • Improper operation of medical equipment

Defective Product Accidents

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), several million injuries related to defective products occur each year across the United States, some of which are fatal. Product designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and any other party in a product’s chain of distribution can be liable for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Product defects typically fall under one of three main categories: design defect, manufacturing defect, or information defect. Design defects occur when a flawed design leads to product issues. Manufacturing defects occur when the design is safe, but something during construction or execution causes danger.

Information defects refer to times when product manufacturers fail to warn consumers about proper use or the hazards associated with product use. The CPSC warns consumers of dangers, sometimes deadly, with regard to hazardous chemicals, children’s products, toys, lighters, fireworks, kitchen appliances, and more.

Damages in South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuits

If you recently lost a loved one and you choose to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party within the three-year statute of limitations under South Carolina law, you could receive some or all of the following damages from a settlement or jury award if you are an eligible survivor:

  • Medical treatment costs up until the time of death including ambulance services, emergency room visits, hospital stay, surgery, X-rays, lab tests, and medication.
  • Lost wages for the time the deceased missed work until he or she passed.
  • Costs for a visitation or wake, and a memorial service or funeral.
  • Costs for cremation and/or burial.
  • Value of the financial support the deceased provided the household before death.
  • Physical pain and suffering and emotional distress until time of death.
  • Loss of companionship and society.
  • Loss of parental support and guidance for dependent children.
  • Exemplary, sometimes called punitive damages, to punish defendants for intentional harm or gross negligence.

South Carolina Wrongful Death FAQs

It is tragic enough to lose a loved one because of illness, but to lose a loved one because of the intentional or reckless negligence of others is traumatic. When this happens, the family deserves compensation for that loss. While money cannot bring your loved one back, it can help reduce financial stress.

South Carolina allows a decedent’s estate to recover wrongful death damages. In addition to economic and non-economic damages, the estate could recover exemplary damages, depending on the situation.

Contact The Hughey Law Firm for more information about your legal options.

What is defined as wrongful death in South Carolina? 

Your neck and back help support large parts of your body, including your head, shoulders, trunk, and more. When you suffer any musculoskeletal injuries to your neck or back, it can have a serious effect on almost every aspect of your life. You may not be able to work, exercise, or even do household chores or pick up your toddler. Many neck and back injuries keep you from walking until you’ve undergone a long course of physical therapy.

What are intentional actions in South Carolina wrongful death claims?

A defendant takes an action against another person and knows his or her actions are wrong and will cause injury, yet still takes those actions. These include intentional torts such as kidnapping, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespassing against a person.

A defendant takes an action against another person and knows his or her actions are wrong and will cause injury, yet still takes those actions. These include intentional torts such as kidnapping, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespassing against a person.

If the defendant kills the plaintiff, or the plaintiff dies later, as a result of injuries suffered during the commission of these crimes, the plaintiff’s estate can file a wrongful death action against the defendant.

What is negligence under South Carolina law?

If a defendant’s actions do not exhibit reasonable care for the safety of others, his or her actions are negligent. In a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a legal duty to the plaintiff and that the defendant breached that duty. The plaintiff must suffer an injury due to the defendant’s breach of duty and must show proof that the defendant’s actions cause his or her injury.

A common form of negligence is speeding: The person behind the wheel has a legal duty to protect others from the negligent action of speeding; the speeding driver loses control of his or her vehicle and runs into you, causing your injuries; you can show proof of the speeding driver’s negligence by showing a police report where the police investigation found that the defendant was speeding.

What is gross negligence under South Carolina law?

For a plaintiff to recover punitive damages, he or she must show gross negligence, which is more than the simple negligence described above. Using the above example, change speeding to driving under the influence. Everyone knows that driving under the influence is likely going to cause an injury or fatal accident. A person that drives while under the influence has a reckless disregard for the lives and/or safety of others on the road, but gets behind the wheel anyway.

Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina?

The decedent’s estate brings the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family members. If the decedent has a will, the administrator initiates the lawsuit on behalf of the estate. If the decedent died intestate (without a will), the court appoints an administrator. The wrongful death lawsuit could only be brought once the court appoints the administrator.

Who gets the proceeds of a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit?

The proceeds of the wrongful death lawsuit get distributed directly to the heirs as if the decedent died without a will. Because the proceeds bypass the estate, creditors who have a claim against the estate do not have a claim against the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Furthermore, because the court distributes the proceeds as if the decedent died without a will, those who receive the proceeds might not be the same people named in the will. Those who get the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit are:

• The spouse would get 100 percent of the proceeds if the decedent did not have children.
• The spouse would get 50 percent of the proceeds if the decedent had children with the spouse. The other 50 percent is divided equally among the children.
• If the decedent is divorced or widowed, the children split 100 percent equally.
• If the decedent does not have a spouse or children, then the proceeds go to the decedent’s surviving parents.
• If the decedent’s parents are not living, then the proceeds are divided equally between the siblings and other heirs as dictated by South Carolina statutes.

Does a decedent’s child conceived outside of marriage share in the proceeds of a South Carolina wrongful death claim?

Yes. If a child is illegitimate, that child could also share in the children’s share of the proceeds.

Can I bring a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit if the defendant is convicted in a related criminal case?

Yes. The defendant might receive fines and jail time, or other penalties, but he or she could still have to pay damages in a civil action.

How long does the estate have to file a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit?

Yes. The defendant might receive fines and jail time, or other penalties, but he or she could still have to pay damages in a civil action. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is three years from the date of the decedent’s death. Keep in mind that some actions take time, so the estate should file the wrongful death lawsuit as soon as possible. For example, if the court has to appoint an administrator for the estate, the estate can’t bring the wrongful death action until after the court assigns the  administrator. Once that happens, it takes time to investigate the incident and gather evidence. If the estate wishes to try to settle first, that also takes time. While three years sounds like a long time, in reality, it could be a very short amount of time.

If the estate decides to settle a South Carolina wrongful death case, does anyone have to approve the settlement?

Yes. The probate court, circuit court, or a United States District Court must approve the settlement.

What is a survival action and do I need to file one?

A wrongful death lawsuit includes the survival action. In a nutshell, a survival action is a claim against the defendant for damages that the decedent would have recovered had he or she lived after the defendant’s actions. The survival action recovers damages to pay for any medical expenses and lost wages that the defendant incurred between the accident and his or her death.For example, if the defendant’s actions caused injuries, but the decedent did not die until days after the incident, the decedent’s estate can recover any medical expenses and lost wages for the time of the incident through the time of death.

How much can I recover in a South Carolina wrongful death settlement or lawsuit?

You could recover three types of damages for a wrongful death lawsuit: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. The court would order economic damages and non-economic damages in an attempt to make you whole again. While money cannot bring back a loved one, that is the only option you have in wrongful death cases. The money does help to reduce the financial stress of figuring out how to care for your family on one income.

Economic damages. Special damages, also known as economic damages, are those with a monetary value.

They include:

  • Past medical expenses that your loved one incurred as a result of the incident.
  • Past lost wages that your loved one lost as a result of the incident.
  • Psychological therapy for the decedent’s loved ones.
  • Replacement or repair of personal property that was destroyed or damaged in the incident.
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs.
  • Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses.

Non-economic damages. General damages, also known as non-economic damages, are those that do not have a monetary value.

They include:

  • Emotional distress.
  • Loss of companionship and support.
  • Loss of consortium.
  • Inconvenience (loss of services).

Punitive damages. The court orders punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant—not to make the plaintiff whole again. When asking for punitive damages, the plaintiff must complete the first stages of the trial to determine if he or she gets economic and/or non-economic damages. Because the statutes require a bifurcated trial, the second part of the trial is to determine if the defendant should pay punitive damages and, if so, for how much.

If the trial is a jury trial, the court uses the same jury. The plaintiff must provide evidence that the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent or intentional. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiff, the statutes do not cap punitive damages.

Additionally, if the defendant is convicted of a felony that is related to the plaintiff’s injuries or death, and the felonious conduct was the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries or death, the statutes do not cap punitive damages.

Finally, the statutes do not cap punitive damages if the defendant’s actions injured or killed the plaintiff while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Should I try to settle with the insurance company after a South Carolina wrongful death case?

Before you make that decision, keep in mind that insurance companies are in business to make a profit. If they have to pay more claims, their bottom line takes a hit. Thus, the insurance company may try to find a reason to deny your claim or make an offer that is unfair and unreasonable.

For any type of accident, but especially a wrongful death accident, you should give the insurance company limited information. This includes your name and contact information, the defendant’s name and contact information (if you have it), the defendant’s insurance information (if you have it), and any special licenses the defendant might have.

If the wrongful death was the result of a motor vehicle accident, you could also give the insurance company the defendant’s registration information. In all cases, give the insurance company your South Carolina wrongful death attorney’s name and contact information, including the phone number, email address, and physical mailing address.

Never discuss the accident or incident, especially the cause of the accident or incident. The insurance representative may try to get you to give him or her that information. Simply continue referring the representative to your attorney.

Who can order death certificates in South Carolina?

After the death, the funeral home usually asks you how many certified copies of the death certificate you need. Because it takes some time to get the death certificates, you should make sure you have enough originals to hand out to those who will need them.

You might need a death certificate for Social Security, the Veteran’s Administration, to transfer retirement accounts and bank accounts, to transfer title to vehicles, and other reasons. You will also need an original for the probate court and will need one for each defendant in a wrongful death case.

To save time and hassle later on, always order more death certificates than you think you will need. If you do run out, you can order a death certificate online, over the phone, in person, or by mail. Only certain people can order death certificates since they do not become public record for 50 years after the death of your loved one.

Immediate family members—the spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, and grandparents, and the legal representatives of the listed relatives—are the only people that can order a death certificate.

What information do I need to order additional death certificates?

If you do have to order additional death certificates, you will have to provide the decedent’s full name and date of death, the county where the decedent was pronounced dead, your signature and mailing address, your relationship to the decedent, and your full name, phone number, and mailing address.

Contact Our South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorneys During This Difficult Time

Nate HugheyWith the recent loss of a valued family member, you and your family are facing massive grief that poses challenges each day. You may deserve compensation for the losses you have suffered because another party caused the death of your family member. Focus on coping with your grief, and contact a compassionate and knowledgeable wrongful death attorney at Hughey Law Firm online or at (843) 881-8644.

During your free consultation, our compassionate South Carolina wrongful death attorneys can evaluate your claim, determine the viability of your case, and provide you and your family the comfort you need to decide on the best path forward.