Losing a beloved family member can be agonizing. In addition to the depression, guilt, and grief that comes with a significant loss, an unexpected death can cause serious financial strain. You could be struggling with a loss of income, medical bills, funeral expenses, and other costs.
Thankfully, it may be possible for you to receive compensation for some of your losses. A wrongful death claim can be a way for surviving family members to recover damages and hold the at-fault party responsible for their actions. Hernandez & Cabra is here to support you if you’re considering filing a claim.
How is Wrongful Death Defined in the State of South Carolina?
South Carolina Code § 15-51-10 states that wrongful death is a death that’s caused by a party’s wrongful or negligent behavior. The law allows the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file a claim on behalf of surviving family members. Wrongful death claims are filed in civil court and are designated as a type of personal injury case.
The law covers any deaths that were caused by negligence, recklessness, or wrongful behavior. There are many fatal incidents that could be the basis for a wrongful death claim, including:
- Auto accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Criminal actions
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Defective products
South Carolina also allows the estate of the deceased to file a survival action on their behalf. These claims are designed to recover damages for the deceased’s losses before their death. These damages could include medical expenses, loss of income, and damages for pain and suffering. While a wrongful death claim focuses on the death of the victim, a survival act focuses on the injuries that the deceased sustained.
Who is Qualified to File a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina?
While a wrongful death claim is a way for an individual’s surviving family members to recover damages on their behalf, South Carolina has limits on who is permitted to bring forth a wrongful death suit. The claim must be filed by the administrator or executor of the deceased’s estate. If the deceased did not have an estate plan, the court will decide who the administrator will be.
The estate administrator will file the claim on behalf of the deceased’s surviving family. Benefits will first be divided between the deceased’s surviving spouse and children. If the deceased has no living spouse or children, benefits will be awarded to the deceased’s parents. If the deceased does not have a surviving spouse, children, or parents, benefits will be awarded to the deceased’s heirs.
What Types of Damages Are Recoverable?
Wrongful death claims allow surviving family members to recover losses they experienced as the result of the death of their loved one. The estate can seek compensation for many damages, including:
- Medical expenses related to the deceased’s fatal injury
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the deceased’s income or benefits
- Other financial losses related to the death of the deceased
- Loss of companionship
- The mental anguish of surviving family members
While South Carolina allows families to recover both economic and non-economic damages, there are some limits on the amount of compensation that can be recovered. When filing a wrongful death claim due to medical malpractice, no more than $350,000 can be recovered from a single health care provider. If multiple providers are being sued, no more than $1.05 million can be recovered in total.
Can Surviving Family File for Punitive Damages?
South Carolina allows surviving family members to receive punitive damages (usually referred to as exemplary damages) in cases where the at-fault party acted deliberately or showed extreme negligence. Although these damages are awarded to family members, they are not intended to serve as compensation for the family. Instead, the purpose of exemplary damages is to punish the at-fault party for their behavior. These damages are intended to serve as a deterrent.
Punitive damages can be no more than three times the amount of actual damages awarded. For example, if a family was awarded $100,000 in actual damages, they could receive no more than $300,000 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are capped at $500,000.
How is Negligence Proven in a Wrongful Death Case?
In order to recover benefits for the beneficiaries of the deceased, it’s necessary to prove that the at-fault party was negligent or engaged in deliberate wrongful behavior. In a criminal case, it’s necessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but because wrongful death claims are a civil action, the burden of proof is lower.
To establish negligence, a claim must provide evidence supporting the four pillars of a wrongful death case:
To file a successful claim, you must show that the at-fault party owed a duty to the deceased. In a personal injury claim, the term “duty” refers to the responsibility an individual has to keep another safe. For example, when you drive, you have a duty to follow traffic laws.
After demonstrating that the defendant owed the deceased a duty, you must show that that duty has been breached. If the defendant ran a red light while driving, they breached their duty to drive responsibly.
A claim must establish that the deceased’s death was entirely or partially caused by the defendant’s careless, reckless, wrongful, or negligent behavior. South Carolina requires this claim to be supported by a “preponderance of the evidence.” As an example, if your loved one died in an auto accident, you will need to demonstrate that the accident was the cause of death.
It’s necessary to show that surviving family members incurred damages because of the death of the deceased. Examples of damages could include:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Pain and suffering to the victim
- Loss of companionship
A claim must provide substantial evidence in support of these damages, such as copies of pay stubs or medical bills. In some cases, it may be necessary to have an expert witness testify on your behalf. Working with an experienced Spartanburg wrongful death lawyer will allow you to build a strong claim with a high chance of success.
How Do You Start a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina?
South Carolina only allows the administrator or executor of the deceased to pursue a wrongful death claim. If the deceased did not have an estate plan with an assigned representative, a claim cannot be pursued until the Probate Court has appointed a personal representative for the deceased.
This requirement can increase the amount of time it takes to resolve a claim, which makes it all the more important for families to take action quickly. In most cases, the deceased’s representative has three years to file a claim. If the at-fault party is a government agency, claims must be filed within two years.
Hernandez & Cabra can assist you with every aspect of your claim and provide you with the guidance that you need. If you’re unable to start a claim because the deceased didn’t have an estate plan, we’ll work with you to ensure that a representative is assigned as soon as possible.
Our experienced team will analyze your claim and ensure that you receive the maximum compensation. We’ll work to gather evidence and track down witnesses and will handle all negotiations. We’ll ensure that you receive the damages you’re owed and that your rights will be protected throughout the process.
What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?
South Carolina allows surviving family members to recover damages through wrongful death claims, but in some cases, families may also be able to bring forth a survival action. Survival actions are typically filed alongside wrongful death claims, but the deceased’s estate can only file a survival action under specific circumstances.
Survival actions are designed to provide compensation for the damages that took place between the time the negligent or wrongful behavior occurred and the death of the deceased. It’s not possible to bring forth a survival action if the deceased died instantly. While wrongful death claims are intended to compensate surviving family members for their losses, survival actions are a way to recover benefits that the deceased would have been able to claim if they had survived.
Like wrongful death claims, survival actions must be filed by a representative of the deceased’s estate. In most cases, both claims are filed at the same time. Damages that can be recovered in a survival action include pain and suffering that the deceased experienced before death and medical expenses incurred before death. Damages that are not included in the wrongful death claim, such as funeral expenses, could be included as well.
Call Our Spartanburg Wrongful Death Lawyers
Losing a loved one is devastating under any circumstances. It can be even more upsetting to know that your family member was killed because of someone’s negligent or wrongful behavior. Thankfully, South Carolina allows families to recover damages and seek compensation after a wrongful death. In some cases, families may even be able to seek punitive damages.
Pursuing a wrongful death case in South Carolina can be complex. Not only is it necessary for the claim to be filed by a representative of the deceased’s estate, but the estate may also be able to bring forth a survival action. That makes it all the more important to have the support of experienced and dedicated Spartanburg wrongful death lawyers. Call Hernandez & Cabra today at 864-501-4384 to schedule a free consultation or speak with a member of our team.