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Learn About the Basics of Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit From an Experienced South Carolina Attorney

In South Carolina, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim when a loved one dies due to the negligence or misconduct of a liable party. This legal action holds the responsible party accountable for the loss and can provide compensation to surviving family members. Hiring a skilled South Carolina wrongful death lawyer is crucial for protecting your legal rights. At Pracht Injury Lawyers, we have considerable expertise in building support for your claim and representing the interests of the bereaved family in court. 

How Does South Carolina Law Define Wrongful Death?

Not all accidental deaths are deemed wrongful deaths under South Carolina law. The South Carolina Code of Laws defines “wrongful death” in Section 15-51-10 (2021). It states that a wrongful death is when the death is “caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another.” The act may be due to accidental negligence or it can be intentional.

The key factor defining a wrongful death is that the lethal action is such that had the victim survived, they would have been entitled to recover damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Examples of wrongful deaths may include drunk driving accidents, slip-and-fall incidents, medical malpractice, and homicide. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case in South Carolina?

While the whole family can feel the impact of such a traumatic loss, not everyone is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. Section 15-51-20 of the South Carolina Code of Laws outlines who speaks for the departed in a wrongful death case. The legal action “shall be brought by or in the name of the executor or administrator of such person.”

In other words, the person named as the executor or personal representative in the victim’s will must file the wrongful death claim. If this person can’t or doesn’t want to take on this responsibility, or if there isn’t a will, the court may name a replacement. Often, this may be a spouse, sibling, or other close relative. They must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old.

When Is the Statute of Limitations Deadline?

With South Carolina wrongful death cases, it’s crucial to act quickly. The statute of limitations for filing a claim is typically three years. This usually begins on the date of the person’s death.  

If the family doesn’t learn of the negligent or wrongful act until later, the three-year period may start from the date of discovery. This can sometimes be the case with nursing home neglect or medical malpractice.  

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the case must conclude within three years. It just means you must file the wrongful death case within three years. The courts will almost always deny your case if you file the wrongful death claim after the statute of limitations has expired. 

How Do You File a Wrongful Death Complaint in Court?

Importantly, a wrongful death civil case is separate from any pending criminal charges. A wrongdoer accused of manslaughter or driving under the influence (DUI) may be punished with fines, probation, and jail time. For grieving families to recover any financial settlement, they must file a separate wrongful death civil case. The threshold for proof for civil and criminal cases is also different.  

The South Carolina Judicial Branch indicates that you should file a claim for $7,500 or less with the Magistrate Court. File claims over $7,500 with the appropriate South Carolina Circuit Court. Filing a lawsuit consists of two main components:

  • The complaint outlines the circumstances of the person’s death and why the executor is now filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • The summons informs the defendant that the plaintiff is suing them and they must answer the complaint by a certain deadline. 

Service of Process, also known as “serving papers,” involves letting the defendant know you’re suing them for damages. This can be done through the sheriff’s department, a private process server, certified U.S. mail, or by publication. Your wrongful death lawyer will explain how this works and file the paperwork on your behalf. 

What Happens After You File a Complaint?

After you’ve filed the formal complaint with the court, your wrongful death case typically goes through several stages. They may include: 

  1. Answer. The defendant must serve a copy of their answer to the complaint within 30 days of receiving it. This acknowledges receipt but doesn’t necessarily admit fault or liability.
  2. Evidence. Your lawyer starts filing requests for evidence and motions of discovery to build your case. Police and autopsy reports are common requests. 
  3. Insurance. If the allegedly liable party has relevant insurance, your case may go through an insurance claim for potential damages. 
  4. Hearings. A judge could hear your case, giving you and your lawyer a chance to present evidence and the settlement terms you seek.
  5. Negotiation. The two parties may discuss terms and negotiate a settlement amount based on the evidence presented.
  6. Trial. If the two parties cannot agree on a settlement, the case might go to trial, where the court decides the verdict and the amount of compensation.

What Do You Need to Prove to Win Your South Carolina Wrongful Death Claim?

Whether you conclude the case in settlement negotiations or in court, to win a wrongful death claim in South Carolina, you must prove four main elements. 

  1. Duty of care. The at-fault party owed the victim a reasonable standard of care.
  2. Breach of duty of care. The responsible party violated this duty through intentional action, wrongful action, or negligence.
  3. Injury. The victim suffered injuries from the incident involving the breach of duty of care. 
  4. Causation. This negligence or wrongful act directly caused the victim to suffer injuries and die.

Once you’ve established these four criteria, you must also defend the amount of money you’re claiming for economic and non-economic damages. 

What Are the Possible Damages You May Recover?

In many instances, a victim’s family may file wrongful death and survival action cases at the same time. A wrongful death claim seeks compensation for damages relating to the death of a loved one. By contrast, a survival action case pursues compensation for damages the victim endured after the initial injury but before they died. 

For example, say a victim was struck by a drunk driver in a car accident. They were hospitalized for four weeks before ultimately succumbing to their injuries. Their medical bills and lost wages during those four weeks would fall under the survival action, like in a personal injury lawsuit. Subsequent costs and damages would fall under the wrongful death lawsuit. 

Damages that families may recover from wrongful death cases may include:

  • Medical bills and related costs
  • Loss of future financial support and benefits
  • Loss of care, companionship, and consortium
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Pain and suffering by surviving family members
  • Exemplary damages, also called punitive damages 

Wrongful death settlement amounts can be substantial. Zerihun Wolde’s family, co-represented by Christopher Pracht and The McLeod Law Group, secured a $20.73 million verdict after Mr. Wolde died in a drowning accident. 

How Can Pracht Injury Lawyers Help You?

The legal requirements for a successful wrongful death claim can be perplexing and overly detailed. Whether it’s a medical malpractice lawsuit, a workplace accident, or the tragic loss of a child at daycare, the skills of a seasoned South Carolina wrongful death attorney are invaluable to your family’s sense of closure.  

Consult the experienced legal team at Pracht Injury Lawyers with any questions. We’ll assess your case and formulate a sound strategy to seek fair restitution for your loss. Our lawyers are well-versed in South Carolina personal injury law and will explain the legal options that apply to your case. Let us gather evidence, file paperwork, and negotiate for the compensation and justice your family deserves.