Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in South Carolina?

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After the sudden, unexpected death of your loved one, you probably have some questions. For example, who is eligible to file a wrongful death case in South Carolina? The answer to the question involves two issues: who are the legal beneficiaries under South Carolina law, and what constitutes a wrongful death? 

Legal Beneficiaries of a Wrongful Death Claim

S.C. Code § 15-51-20 lists the people who can be the beneficiaries of a wrongful death action.

  1. The proceeds of the wrongful death action will benefit the surviving spouse and child or children of the deceased person.
  2. If the decedent left behind no surviving spouse or child, the surviving parent or parents would be next in line to receive compensation for the wrongful death.
  3. If there are no survivors in the first two categories, other surviving heirs shall be the beneficiaries of the wrongful death case. 

Please note that the law limits the legal beneficiaries to those related to the deceased person by blood, marriage, or adoption. “Significant others” do not have rights to the proceeds of the wrongful death action in South Carolina unless they fall into one of these categories. You might have lived with the individual for decades and had a deep, loving relationship, but that will not be recognized in the eyes of the law. 

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Under South Carolina Law?

South Carolina law specifies these elements for wrongful death claims that the death of a person was:

  • Caused by someone else, in other words, not the decedent;
  • The death was the result of a wrongful act, neglect, or default of that other person;
  • If the decedent had survived their wounds, they could have pursued a personal injury claim for money damages against the at-fault party.

The statute says that the deceased person’s family can file a wrongful death action even if the death was the result of the at-fault party’s criminal activity. In other words, if someone kills another person and the killing is a felony, the family can take action in civil court for financial compensation for the wrongful death. 

Also, if the wrongdoer dies before the family gets to go after or collect money damages from the wrongdoer, the family can file a wrongful death case against the personal representative of the wrongdoer’s estate. The right of the family to pursue compensation for their losses does not end when the at-fault party dies. Let’s walk through some scenarios to understand this concept.

  • Let’s say that an individual shoots and kills several people. The police shoot and kill the shooter. The families of the people killed by the gunman can still sue the estate of the deceased gunman.
  • A drunk driver caused a car accident that involved several fatalities, including the drunk driver. The drunk driver had multiple previous DWI convictions, and this crash was a felony. The families of the individuals (other than the drunk driver) who lost their lives in this collision can file a wrongful death claim against the personal representative of the drunk driver’s estate.

People usually have questions about whether the facts in their situation fall within the definition of a “wrongful act, neglect, or default.” So, again, you will want to talk to a South Carolina wrongful death attorney who handles these claims about that question. But, again, these issues are highly fact-driven.

Damages in South Carolina Wrongful Death Claims

South Carolina law, in S.C. Code § 15-51-40, allows the jury to award “damages … as they may think apportioned to the injury resulting from the death” to the legal beneficiaries. These damages can include things like:

  • The final medical bills of the decedent from the injury.
  • Funeral and burial expenses of the deceased person.
  • The loss to the family of the decedent’s income and household services.
  • Loss of companionship, education, inheritance, and guidance of the deceased person.

Also, under South Carolina law, a jury can award exemplary damages, also called punitive damages, in addition to the compensatory items listed above, if the at-fault party’s actions showed “recklessness, willfulness, or malice.”

The Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in South Carolina

You will not want to wait too long to take legal action after your close relative dies from someone else’s wrongful conduct. But, unfortunately, South Carolina only gives you three years to file a wrongful death lawsuit in S.C. Ann. § 15-3-530. 

Three years might seem like a long time, but time can pass quickly after the death of a loved one. You might have a thousand details to deal with, as well as your grief. Unfortunately, if you miss the filing deadline, South Carolina law can forever bar you from holding the at-fault party accountable for causing the death of your close relative.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney in South Carolina to Learn More Today

If you lost a loved one due to the negligent actions of another in South Carolina, contact a wrongful death lawyer from our firm to learn if you can file a wrongful death claim.

You can reach out to Schiller & Hamilton today to get started. We offer a free initial consultation.

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