Losing a loved one is always hard, but it is even harder when your loved one is taken too soon. When your loved one was killed by the wrongful or negligent acts of another person, you should seek justice. While bringing a wrongful death claim will not change what happened, it can help you and other beneficiaries receive closure and financial assistance.
Is There a Limit on the Amount of Money I Can Receive in a Wrongful Death Case?
While most states place some kind of limit on the amount of damages that you can receive for wrongful death, the State of South Carolina generally does not. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule that you need to be aware of before bringing your wrongful death case.
If your wrongful death case arises out of medical malpractice, South Carolina state law places some limitations on the amount of money that you can receive. This limit only applies to non-economic damages, which are damages that are subjectively determined by the jury, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
In medical malpractice cases, the most money that you can receive for non-economic damages is $350,000 per defendant, or up to a total of $1.05 million. However, this limit does not apply to economic damages, such as medical bills or lost wages, which typically also run into hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Punitive damages are extra damages that are meant to act as a punishment to the defendant for egregious or grossly negligent behavior. Punitive damages are only awarded if you prove that the defendant’s actions were intentional, willful and wanton, fraudulent, or grossly negligent.
In South Carolina, the maximum amount of punitive damages that you can receive is three times your actual damages, which are the damages that you were awarded for everything else, or $500,000, whichever number is higher. This punitive damage cap applies to all cases, regardless of whether the case involved medical malpractice. However, if the court determines that the defendant acted especially badly, then there is no cap on punitive damages, and these especially bad acts are:
- If the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff
- If the defendant was convicted of a felony for the same actions that injured the plaintiff
- If the defendant did any negligent act while drunk or high
If the jury finds that one of these things is true, they are technically allowed to award any amount of punitive damages that they want. However, the Judge will most likely reduce the award if the jury awards an amount that is huge or disproportionate, such as if the amount of punitive damages is more than 10 times the amount of actual damages.
South Carolina does not place any limitations whatsoever on the amount of money that you can receive for economic damages. Economic damages are damages that are easy to calculate and can be awarded based on clear data. Essentially, economic damages are reimbursement damages that are meant to either pay you back or pay you for things that you would have had if not for the accident.
In wrongful death cases, some of the most common types of economic damages are:
- Lost wages for the deceased
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Property damage
No matter how high these damages are, they will not be reduced by law. In fact, South Carolina applies the collateral source rule, which means that compensation that you receive from a source that is completely independent of the wrongdoer will not reduce the damages that they must pay. This means that if you receive something like an insurance payout, that will not reduce the damages that you can receive.
How Are Non-Economic Damages Calculated?
Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life, are very subjective and normally entirely up to the jury. However, both parties are allowed to present evidence of how much those damages should be. The majority of the time, non-economic damages are calculated in one of two ways.
Using the multiplier method, an expert witness, normally an economist, will testify that the amount of economic damages should be multiplied by another number (normally 2-4, depending on the severity of the injuries) and that this number should be awarded for non-economic damages. This method is the most common method in South Carolina.
The other method that can be used to calculate non-economic damages is the per diem method. This method entails an expert witness, again, normally an economist, who will take the total amount of economic damages, divide that number by the number of days between the accident and the trial, and then use that per day number to state that the jury should award an amount that would be enough to last until the end of the injury.
What if My Loved One Was Partially at Fault for Their Accident?
South Carolina has a law known as modified comparative negligence for personal injury cases. This law means that the amount that you (or the executor of the deceased’s estate) can recover for damages will be reduced proportionally by the amount that they were at fault for the accident.
For example, if the plaintiff was 15% at fault for the accident and receives total damages of $1 million, they will instead receive $850,000 because their award will be reduced by 15%. If the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault, however, they will not be able to recover any compensation because they were mostly at fault.
How much fault the plaintiff shares for the accident is a determination that is made completely by the jury, which means that there is no real way to determine how much fault the plaintiff has beforehand. This means that regardless of how much the plaintiff was at fault, a skilled lawyer can still often secure some compensation.