You Have a Right to Hire a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawyer to Pursue a Civil Case, Too 

Dealing with the untimely passing of a beloved family member is never easy. The situation can be even more devastating if their death is the direct result of someone’s negligence or intentional violence. 

Even if there’s a pending criminal case for murder or manslaughter, it’s prudent to file a wrongful death lawsuit at the same time. Criminal and civil cases are separate in South Carolina and serve completely different purposes. The only way for grieving families to seek financial compensation is through civil action against the at-fault party. 

Time Limit to File a Wrongful Death Claim

Despite the whirlwind of emotions surrounding the wake of a tragedy, time is still of the essence. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is generally three years. This doesn’t mean the case needs to be settled within that time. Rather, the personal representative for the deceased must file their civil action within three years of the death. Families risk running out of time if they wait for the outcome of the criminal court case. 

A notable exception is in medical malpractice cases. South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-3-545 provides a special provision for medical malpractice. The three-year period may start from the “date of discovery” if the negligent action wasn’t apparent at the time of death— but it must not exceed six years from the date of occurrence. Legal proceedings may take months or even years before parties settle.  

Purpose of Each Type of Case

It’s crucial to note that criminal charges laid against someone and a wrongful death civil lawsuit serve entirely different purposes and are separate legal actions. Criminal and civil cases lead to different consequences and their outcomes may not align. 

Criminal Charges Like Murder and Manslaughter

When someone breaks the law, they may face criminal charges. Government prosecutors, like circuit solicitors in South Carolina, file these charges. For example, someone may be charged with manslaughter resulting from a fatal drunk driving accident

In criminal court, prosecutors must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Defendants may receive jail time, fines, driver's license revocation, and other punishments if convicted. Families of victims may find closure in the justice served, but the courts don’t award them any financial compensation for damages. 

Civil Cases Like Wrongful Death Lawsuits

For families to recover any economic and non-economic damages, they must file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is a civil action separate from the criminal case. Whereas government prosecutors file criminal charges, the executor or personal representative of the decedent is responsible for filing a civil wrongful death lawsuit. 

Unlike the criminal case, civil claims don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, a positive verdict is rendered based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” The court believes the claim is more likely to be true (over 50 percent) than untrue. The same evidence can be used in both cases, but the court proceedings and outcomes are different. 

The defendant is found liable for damages if the death was the result of their negligent or intentional behavior—in other words, their actions were the most probable cause of death, and they’re accountable for paying a settlement to the victim’s beneficiaries. Families may also file a survival action case at the same time.

How Families Can Seek Compensation for Their Losses

Another notable difference between the two actions is that the parties named in the lawsuit don’t always necessarily align with those in the criminal case. 

For example, the reckless motorist may face drunk driving criminal charges. But, in some cases, other parties may also be held liable for wrongful death damages, such as the bar that served them or the ridesharing company. The skilled team at Pracht Injury Lawyers will thoroughly review the specifics of your case and explore all possible legal action.

Potential Damages in a South Carolina Wrongful Death Case

Families must carefully weigh all damages—not only incident-related expenses but also future costs and losses. It’s vital to have a knowledgeable lawyer tabulate the total value of the case accurately, as you cannot seek more damages after the case is settled. Possible damages may include:

  • Current medical expenses
  • Loss in future earnings and benefits
  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damage
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of consortium
  • Punitive damages

Our South Carolina wrongful death attorneys have worked tirelessly for our clients to get the fair compensation they deserve. One family was awarded $975,000 after their loved one was struck by a commercial vehicle. Another received over $20 million after a family member died in a drowning accident at Myrtle Beach.

Criminal Prosecutors Aren’t Wrongful Death Attorneys

To seek the justice and closure your family deserves, it’s important to hire an experienced wrongful death lawyer to manage your case. Whether it’s a first-degree murder or a case of medical malpractice, prosecutors cannot serve in the civil case at the same time. At Pracht Injury Lawyers, we value your trust during such a challenging time and work diligently to act in your family’s best interest and build the strongest case possible for a civil claim.