cost of a wrongful death suit

The Cost of Human Life: What is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth in South Carolina?

Saying goodbye for the last time to someone close to you is always heart-wrenching. But when a loved one suffers an untimely death that is caused by the wrongful actions of another person or party, the suffering can become almost unbearable. At this point, all you can do is take the time needed to grieve and try to adjust to life without them.

As we all know, no amount of money can bring back a lost loved one. However, South Carolina law does allow for surviving family members to recover damages when someone else causes an individual’s death. This is accomplished through a wrongful death lawsuit, survivorship claim, or both.

Wrongful death and survivorship claims are civil actions that are separate and apart from any criminal proceeding the responsible party may be facing. And these actions can be brought regardless of whether or not the defendant is charged criminally for the event that resulted in your loved one’s death. 

South Carolina Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by the executor/personal representative of the decedent’s estate. This is the person who is named to this position in the will. If there is no will, the executor/personal representative is appointed by the court. It is important to note that proceeds from a wrongful death action do not go to the estate, they are distributed directly to the decedent’s heirs at law as if they died without a will. This means that, potentially, persons who are not named in the will may be eligible for a portion of the proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit.

Damages Available from Wrongful Death Claims in South Carolina

The state of South Carolina does not place a monetary value on a person’s life. As such, damages from a wrongful death lawsuit are based on the financial expenses and other losses incurred by surviving family members, rather than a fixed dollar amount.

Damages from a wrongful death claim can be divided into three general categories:

  • Economic Damages: These are actual monetary losses incurred by the decedent and his/her survivors. Examples may include medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, loss of future earnings, and property damage.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These are losses that are real but intangible and more difficult to quantify. Examples include emotional distress and loss of companionship, guidance, and support.
  • Punitive Damages: If the actions of the party responsible for your loved one’s death were willful, wanton, malicious, or fraudulent, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the wrongdoer and help deter them (and others) from committing similarly egregious acts in the future.

South Carolina Survivorship Actions

A survivorship claim is another type of civil action that can be filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. A survivorship action is appropriate in cases when the decedent survived for a period of time after the accident or incident and before his/her death. During this time, the decedent most likely incurred very high medical bills and endured an enormous amount of physical pain and suffering and mental anguish.

Damages can be awarded for these losses over and above what is recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit. And in many cases, wrongful death and survivorship claims are filed at the same time (when circumstances warrant this type of action).

There is one important difference between a survivorship claim and a wrongful death claim in South Carolina. While proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit go directly to the decedent’s intestate heirs (regardless of whether or not there is a will), proceeds from a survivorship action are paid to the decedent’s estate and distributed to the heirs in the will or estate.

This means that individuals who are entitled to a portion of the damages from a survivorship lawsuit may be different from those who are eligible to share the damages from a wrongful death claim. This also means that, if the estate has incurred any debts, creditors may have a claim to some or all of the proceeds from a survivorship action.

Contact a Skilled and Compassionate Columbia, SC Wrongful Death Lawyer

If you lost a loved one because of another party’s negligence or recklessness, you may be entitled to compensation. South Carolina wrongful death laws are complicated, however, and you need experienced legal counsel by your side to provide strong legal guidance and moral support during this difficult time.

Contact Peake and Fowler today to schedule a free consultation and case assessment.  We will meet with you to review the circumstances of your loved one’s death and advise you of your legal rights and options. Call our office at today at 803-788-4370 or message us through our online contact form. You may also stop by our office in person at your convenience.

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Can I File A Wrongful Death Case?

Experiencing the death of a loved one well before death from natural causes would occur is a traumatic occurrence, and one that may result in feelings of depression, despair, and even anger. At the law offices of Peake & Fowler, our South Carolina wrongful death attorneys have helped clients like you understand what steps can be taken from a legal perspective to secure compensation for the death of a loved one. If you have lost a family member in an accident in South Carolina that you believe was caused by someone else, you may be able to bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit for damages. Here’s what you should know:

Cause of Action for a Wrongful Death Suit

To have a legal basis for bringing forth a wrongful death suit in South Carolina, you must establish that the death was caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, or default of another,” and that had the accident/injury not resulted in death, the decedent would have been able to bring forth a suit for personal injury against the at-fault party. In this way, personal injury suits and wrongful death actions are very similar; what differs is who brings forth the action. As such, a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate following fatal acts of medical malpractice, motor vehicle accidents, premises liability accidents (such as slip and falls or pool incidents), pedestrian crashes, bicycle accidents, nursing home accidents, and more.

Filing a Wrongful Death Action in South Carolina

Only certain parties related to a decedent maintain the right to bring forth a wrongful death action in South Carolina. As found in South Carolina Code Section 15-51-20, only the executor or administrator of an estate may bring forth a claim. However, claims are filed to recover damages for beneficiaries, who may include:

  • Spouse;
  • Children;
  • Parent(s) if no spouse or children exist; or
  • Heirs of the decedent if none of the above parties exist.

Types of Damages Recoverable

It can be difficult for parties who are grieving the loss of a loved one to know whether bringing forth a wrongful death action is the right decision, and may base their choice in part on the types of damages recoverable. That being said, if the plaintiff in a wrongful death action can prove the liability of the defendant (by proving duty of care, breach of duty of care, and causation) and can prove damage and sources of recovering damages (i.e. insurance policies) exist, then plaintiffs are able to recover the full extent of losses. This includes:

  • Medical expenses the deceased incurred prior to death;
  • Lost wages and loss of earning capacity;
  • Funeral and burial benefits;
  • Loss of care and companionship;
  • Pain and suffering of survivors; and
  • All other economic or noneconomic losses.

How Much Time Has Passed?

Many clients meet with our lawyers and ask whether or not they can bring forth a claim for wrongful death. Before we can provide them with personalized legal advice, we always ask how much time has passed since the date of death. This is because South Carolina law prevents claimants from bringing forth a wrongful death action after more than three years from the date of death has passed. As such, if more than three years have elapsed since your loved one died, it is unlikely that you will be able to bring forth a wrongful death suit.

Contact Peake & Fowler Today
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit on your own is a complicated and challenging process, and puts your chances of recovering your maximum compensation amount in jeopardy. To improve your chances of recovering the full amount of damages to which you are entitled, contact our law offices today. Our South Carolina wrongful death attorneys are here to advocate for you, and we offer consultations free of charge.