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.