Negligence Contributed to Coronavirus Outbreaks in SC Nursing Homes

Nursing homes have been called “ground zero” in the COVID-19 crisis. Nationwide, nearly half of all coronavirus-related deaths have occurred in nursing facilities. In South Carolina, more than one-third of those who have lost their lives because of COVID-19 were nursing home residents, even though these residents make up only about 12% of those who have tested positive for the virus.

There are 194 nursing homes in South Carolina, and even though the state put restrictions on visitors to these facilities back in early April, coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in several of them. The facilities with the most serious outbreaks tend to be the ones that held the lowest 2019 quality ratings, and many of them had been cited in recent years for violations of standards that were meant to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Nursing homes constitute a “perfect storm” of conditions that would pose a threat of widespread fatalities with a virus as deadly as COVID-19. Coronaviruses spread most rapidly within indoor settings that are climate controlled where people are in closed quarters for an extended period of time. This is why in addition to nursing homes, many outbreaks happened in factories, meatpacking plants, on cruise ships, and within ethnic communities where large families tend to live under the same roof and often in more compact spaces such as apartments.

What made things even deadlier for nursing home residents is their vulnerability to COVID-19. This particular type of coronavirus hits the elderly and infirmed especially hard, and according to the American Council on Science and Health, more than 80% of COVID-related deaths have happened to individuals who were 65 years of age or older. If you add in the 55-64 age group, this number goes up to 92%.

There is no doubt that nursing home patients are the most vulnerable group with regards to the coronavirus, and even under the best of conditions, it would have been difficult to fully contain the spread of COVID-19 within these facilities. Unfortunately, many of the nursing homes in our state did not take this situation as seriously as they should have, and a large number of them failed to take the steps needed to protect our elderly loved ones.

Complaints were filed against several South Carolina nursing homes alleging that residents have been repeatedly exposed to “dangerous or unsanitary conditions.” Some of the specific complaints include allegations that facilities refused to test residents for the coronavirus (as was required by the state) and that facilities refused to provide adequate supplies and equipment to protect staff and residents.

Many nursing home employees tried to sound the alarm with state regulators about what was going on in these facilities. Here are just a few of the complaints that were lodged with the South Carolina DHEC:

“The residents in this facility are in immediate danger as staff are not following isolation precautions as directed for COVID 19”

“We, the staff are scared for ourselves and our residents, but we are scared to stand up because we will lose our job”

“Based on what I saw for my two shifts, the patients in inpatient rehab would most likely be safer at home with family members”

The COVID-19 outbreak is the most serious public health crisis our country has faced in decades, and it is especially tragic that so many of our elderly loved ones have perished in nursing homes – largely due to negligence on the part of the facility. It is very important that those who are responsible for allowing these substandard conditions to occur be held fully accountable, not only so that victims’ families can be compensated, but also to help ensure that this situation never repeats itself!

Contact an Experienced South Carolina Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer  

If you have recently lost a loved one or a loved one has become critically ill because of a COVID-19 outbreak in a South Carolina nursing home, you may be entitled to damages. At Peake and Fowler, we understand that this is a difficult time for you, and we are here to help you deal with the complicated legal process. For a free consultation to review your case, message us online or call our office today at 803-788-4370. We look forward to serving you!

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.

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.

 

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed by Family of Clemson Student

On September 22nd, 2014, Clemson University student Tucker Hipps died while out on a morning run with members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity he was pledging. Despite an ongoing police investigation led by the Oconee County Sheriff, the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to this day. In an attempt to find answers and obtain some measure of justice and accountability for what happened, the family of Tucker Hipps on March 30th filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, the fraternity, and three individual fraternity members. The lawsuit filed in Pickens County is seeking more than $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

According to witnesses, Hipps had fallen behind the group during the run and did not return with them at the end of the run. His body was found later that afternoon in Lake Hartwell underneath the State 93 bridge. The exact cause of death is unknown, although he did suffer head injuries consistent with a “downward headfirst falling injury.”

Questions Surround Possible Hazing Incident as Cause of Death

It appears from some accounts that Hipps had been repeatedly told that he was required to collect money from the other pledges and provide 30 meals from McDonalds for the morning run. When Hipps informed the fraternity brothers that he did not have the money, fraternity brother Thomas King, who is a named defendant in the lawsuit, allegedly became enraged. The lawsuit alleges that in the course of a confrontation that followed, Hipps was somehow sent over the bridge railing, landing in the shallow water below. According to the lawsuit, pledges were often pressured into jumping off the bridge. The family of Tucker Hipps believes the “culture of hazing and inappropriate conduct” that is encouraged at fraternities and allowed to continue by the universities is in part responsible for Hipps’ death.