It can be very difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one. It can be even harder when you know their passing could have been prevented. Even if you are confident someone else is to blame, the situation might not meet the criteria for a wrongful death lawsuit. South Carolina law clearly defines what a wrongful death is and outlines the rights of survivors to pursue damages.
How Wrongful Death Is Defined in South Carolina
The reality is that not every accidental death is a wrongful death. It is indeed tragic if someone dies after drowning in a private pool, for example, but the pool owner may not be legally liable for their death. It may have simply been an accident with no legal recourse to recover damages. To sue a negligent party for causing a wrongful death, you must first prove that negligence played a direct role in causing the fatal accident.
South Carolina’s Wrongful Death Legal Statute
South Carolina law sets the legal standards for wrongful death under Code Sections 15-51-10 to 15-51-60. In short, it states that a wrongful death occurs if a person dies as the result of someone else’s negligence or carelessness. The at-fault party doesn’t have to be another person; it could be a business or organization.
Simply put, if the victim could have filed a legitimate personal injury lawsuit had they survived, then you may have a wrongful death. In that case, you may be able to file two different types of claims: a survival action and a wrongful death action.
Survival actions are made for the benefit of the deceased. In a survival action, the estate is suing the at-fault party to recover for what the recently deceased person lost as a result of the accident. These losses might include medical bills, lost income, and property damage. Funeral expenses, including cremation or burial, might be included in a survival action if they are not part of a wrongful death action. A survival action may also include the pain and suffering the victim experienced between the time of the incident and their death.
Aside from costs related to the funeral, a survival action does not include any damages incurred after the person passes away. It is up to the executor of the estate to pursue a survival action.
Wrongful Death Action
The second type of relevant lawsuit here is a wrongful death action. Under South Carolina law, the survivors and beneficiaries of the deceased can seek damages for the losses they have suffered and the losses they face in the future due to their loved one’s death.
With a wrongful death action, the plaintiffs seek to recover the “full value for the loss of the life of the decedent.” These damages could include medical bills, funeral costs, loss of financial support, mental anguish, and loss of companionship.
Examples of Wrongful Death Causes
A wide range of fatal incidents may provide cause for a wrongful death claim. Not all accidental deaths are wrongful deaths, but many wrongful death claims have arisen from the following types of incidents:
- Medical malpractice by doctors or specialists
- Abuse and neglect at nursing homes
- Car accidents with drunk drivers
- Accidents with commercial trucks
- Drowning accidents at hotels and resort
- Criminal behavior like aggravated assault
- Workplace accidents due to lack of safety measures
Take one case where Christopher Pracht represented the plaintiff in partnership with the McLeod Law Group. The family of an ocean drowning victim was awarded over $20 million in damages. This is believed to be the largest personal injury verdict in the history of Horry County.
What Proof Is Needed for a Compelling Case?
What it takes to prove wrongful death depends on each case. In a commercial truck crash, for example, several parties may be at fault. It could be the truck driver, the trucking company, the truck owner, the loading company, or others. Evidence may include police reports, medical records, photos and videos, and witness testimony. Financial records can prove the amount of lost income.
Regardless of the type of case it is, the following must be demonstrated:
- Duty of care. The defendant owed the deceased a reasonable standard of care.
- Breach of duty of care. The defendant breached this duty through their negligence or wrongful action.
- Injury. The deceased sustained fatal injuries in the incident.
- Causation. The defendant’s negligent actions caused the deceased’s fatal injuries.
Wrongful Death Civil Lawsuit vs. Criminal Case
A personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action. It is separate from any criminal charges the other party may face. A drunk driving case is a prime example of this distinction. You can pursue a civil suit for wrongful death even if a criminal case is in the works. The outcome of the criminal case may not mirror the verdict rendered in a civil suit.
A major difference between these kinds of cases is in the level of proof needed. The prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal case. In a civil case, liability just has to be shown “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This is a very different bar. So, the other party may be liable in a civil suit, even if they are found not guilty in criminal court.