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Seasoned Wrongful Death Lawyer Christopher Pracht Outlines Distribution of Funds Following Settlement 

The proceeds from a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit provide some sense of closure for grieving families. Recovering damages like funeral costs and medical expenses can soften the financial burden following such a tragic loss. However, it’s important to note that the person who files the action may not be the only beneficiary. South Carolina law defines how the distribution of wrongful death settlement money is shared among family members based on their relationship to the victim. This may differ from how compensation from a survival action is distributed.  

Recoverable Damages in a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Not all accidental deaths are necessarily wrongful deaths. South Carolina law defines wrongful death as when a person dies due to someone else’s carelessness or negligence. This negligence may or may not be intentional. The at-fault party could be an individual, a business, or an organization.

Examples of economic and non-economic damages families may seek to recover in a wrongful death case may include:

  • Lost wages and future earnings 
  • Loss of future benefits, like medical insurance coverage
  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Emotional pain and suffering
  • Loss of care, compassion, wisdom, and support
  • Loss of consortium

In rare cases, South Carolina courts might also reward punitive damages. The stipulation hinges on whether the death was deliberate and reckless, as in some fatal DUI accidents. Punitive damages are meant to punish liable parties and discourage others from engaging in similar negligent behavior.

Distribution of Wrongful Death Settlement Money Based on Relationship to Victim

Unlike assets in their estate, a person’s last will and testament doesn’t determine the distribution of compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit. South Carolina law defines the allocation of proceeds. This can be significant. Pracht Injury Lawyers was involved in the largest wrongful death injury verdict in Horry County history. We helped to secure over $20 million for the family of a drowning victim.  

South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-51-20 names the main parties who may receive compensation for wrongful death damages: the deceased’s spouse, children, parents, and other heirs. 

Spouse of the Victim

By default, the victim’s surviving husband or wife gets first priority as a beneficiary. If the decedent has no children, the spouse is given the entirety of the wrongful death settlement. 

Surviving Children

The victim’s children represent the next group of beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit. The husband or wife gets half of the settlement amount. The children then share the other half. This includes any children the victim may have through other relationships, including out of wedlock.  

If there’s not a surviving spouse, then the deceased individual’s children share the full settlement amount. For example, say the victim has a surviving spouse and four children. The spouse gets 50 percent and each child gets 12.5 percent. If there are four children but no surviving spouse, each child gets 25 percent of the total settlement. 

Parents of the Victim

Only when there isn’t a spouse or children do the decedent’s parents receive a share of a wrongful death case settlement. In these cases, the parents typically share the settlement equally. However, if one parent wasn’t present and didn’t support the victim throughout their childhood, they may not be eligible for a portion of the claim. 

Other Heirs 

The final possible group of wrongful death beneficiaries are other heirs. This only applies when no spouse, children, or parents are still alive. Determining who may have a valid claim to compensation can be complex. Consult with the legal team at Pracht Injury Lawyers to explore your options. 

Beneficiaries of a Wrongful Death Settlement Might Not Include the Representative Who Filed

The beneficiaries receiving proceeds from the case differ from the person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina. This is only the deceased's personal representative, and might also be called the executor or administrator. Generally, the decedent will have named this person in their will. The court may assign one if they didn’t—or there’s not a will.  

The personal representative is also the only person with the authority to settle the wrongful death claim. Once settled, the proceeds from the case are divided following the guidelines above. 

Distribution of Survival Action Settlement Proceeds

The personal representative may file wrongful death and survival action claims at the same time. However, the distribution of the proceeds from these cases is handled differently. Unlike a wrongful death case, compensation awarded from survival action becomes part of the decedent’s estate. As an estate asset, it’s divided based on the victim’s will. Where there’s no will, distribution is governed by probate law. 

How Pracht Injury Lawyers Help Ensure Family Members Get Their Rightful Share

Heartbreaking wrongful death cases can involve anything from medical malpractice to nursing home abuse. Surviving family members are often overwhelmed with grief. Uncertainties around settlement distribution are perplexing and unfortunately, frequently cause conflict, especially in more complex cases involving separation, common-law relationships, stepchildren, adoptions, and other family dynamics. 

Hiring experienced wrongful death attorneys in South Carolina can provide greater clarity over legal details. The team at Pracht Injury Lawyers can help explain the possible division of the settlement and put your mind at ease.