The sudden death of a loved one creates a chaotic aftermath as survivors grapple with emotional turmoil and face a financially insecure future. If you are facing these circumstances, a wrongful death settlement can restore some order and bring some peace to your family by recovering losses and putting your family’s financial future back on solid ground.
To ensure you receive a fair and substantial settlement, trust your case to a skilled wrongful death lawyer from Shelly Leeke Law Firm.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
If a person is injured because of someone else’s intentional act or negligence, the victim can file a personal injury claim to collect compensation for accident-related damages. When a person dies under those circumstances, South Carolina allows the deceased victim’s survivors to file a wrongful death claim to recover the losses incurred by their loved one’s death.
South Carolina Code §15-51-10 allows these claims “Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another and the act, neglect or default is such as would…have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages…” Filing a wrongful death claim is like filing a personal injury claim on behalf of the victim.
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What Types of Acts Warrant a Wrongful Death Claim?
Any event in which a person causes the death of another because of an intentional act of violence or an act of negligence may warrant a wrongful death claim.
- Fatal car accidents that occur because of the at-fault party’s reckless or distracted driving
- Arguments that turn deadly when one party shoots the other
- Medical malpractice situations, when a doctor should have known better, but misdiagnoses and mistreats the victim
- Nursing home deaths caused by lack of care or outright abuse
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Different states have their own eligibility requirements for wrongful death claimants. Under South Carolina Code 15-51-20, an executor, the administrator of the victim’s estate, holds eligibility. Executors are usually named in the deceased person’s will. If the victim did not have a will, or if the executor named does not want to or cannot fulfill this responsibility, the court can name someone else.
While the executor is the one who pursues the wrongful death claim, collected damages belong to the victim’s surviving family members. In South Carolina, relatives eligible to collect damages include the victim’s:
- Surviving spouse and children
- Parents, if there is no surviving spouse or children
- Heir, if there are no surviving parents, spouse, or children
For the best outcomes, it is best for the executor and survivors to partner with an experienced wrongful death attorney to manage the filing and all other parts of the process properly and efficiently.
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What Kinds of Damages Can You Demand in a Wrongful Death Case?
There are three categories of damages you can pursue, depending on the circumstances of the case: Non-economic damages, economic damages, and punitive damages.
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What Are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages do not have a clear dollar value. They represent the emotional losses that followed your loved one’s death. In most wrongful death cases, non-economic damages include compensation for:
- The survivors’ emotional anguish incurred by the death of their loved one
- The loss of affection and emotional support the victim provided survivors. This loss is often phrased as “loss of consortium”
- The loss of experience, knowledge, and guidance
What Are Economic Damages?
Economic damages are easier to calculate. They encompass the financial losses resulting from your loved one’s death. Typically, survivors see coverage for:
- Lost income or other financial support. This includes lost wages, future earnings, retirement, or other benefits
- Medical expenses incurred if the loved one survived the initial act of violence or accident, but later succumbed to the injuries. Your lawyer may file a “survival action” in this type of situation
- Funeral, burial, and other end-of-life expenses
What Are Punitive Damages?
Where Non-economic and economic damages are compensatory, and “make up for” losses, punitive damages punish the at-fault party. Not every wrongful death case allows for the pursuit of punitive damages.
In South Carolina, these damages can be awarded when it can be proved” by clear and convincing evidence” that the victim’s death resulted from “the defendant’s wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct.” Simply stated, the at-fault party knew their actions, or lack of action, could lead to injury or death, but chose to act (or not act) anyway.
Punitive damages are capped at greater than three times the amount of non-economic and economic damages awarded, or $500,000.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In South Carolina, you have three years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim. If you file after this deadline passes, your case will almost definitely be dismissed.
Three years may seem like a long time, but the legal process often comes with complications. Secure representation from a wrongful death lawyer after your loved one’s death as soon as possible. This time will allow your attorney to investigate the circumstances of the death thoroughly, gather evidence to build a strong case, and deal with any complications that may arise long before the deadline approaches.
Are There Limits to the Settlement Amount You Can Collect?
Generally speaking, there are no limits to what you can sue for in a wrongful death claim in South Carolina. However, if your case is against particular entities, such as charities or government offices, or is based on medical malpractice.
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