Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Most issues arising in a South Carolina automobile accident case can be handled in state court. Sometimes, however, a case is filed in federal court. When this happens, a state court may be asked to weigh in on a particular issue of South Carolina law.

This is especially likely in cases involving issues which have not previously been addressed specifically by the state courts.

Facts of the Case

In a recently considered declaratory judgment case, the defendant was a man who, along with his late wife, had been involved in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the couple was traveling in a car owned by the late wife’s mother. After the wife passed away from injuries suffered in the accident, the drunk driver’s automobile liability insurance company tendered policy limits to the man as compensation for his personal injuries and his late wife’s injuries and wrongful death. The mother’s uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier also paid policy limits to the man. The man’s own UM/UIM carrier tendered UIM bodily injury limits, but it refused the man’s request for additional funds (to be paid from property damage coverage of the “split limits” policy) for potential punitive damages against the drunk driver. Continue reading

Most South Carolina medical malpractice lawsuits revolve around the issues of whether the defendant health care provider breached the applicable standard of care and, if so, the amount of compensation due to the victim.However, sometimes there are other issues, such as in a recent case in which the malpractice action was settled, but a dispute arose as to who was entitled to share in the monetary proceeds paid by the allegedly negligent medical providers.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate case, the plaintiff was the mother of a minor child who died an hour after she was born. The mother brought a wrongful death and survival action against the child’s medical providers, seeking damages for medical malpractice. The mother named the defendant and another man (who was later dismissed from the case) as putative fathers. After the lawsuit was settled, the mother petitioned the trial court to deny the defendant any interest in the wrongful death proceeds, relying on South Carolina Code § 15-51-40. The probate court agreed with the mother that the defendant had failed to provide reasonable support and was thus not entitled to share in the proceeds of the settlement.

The amount of insurance coverage available in a South Carolina car accident case is one of the most important considerations in determining the overall value of a claim filed by an injured person or the family of an accident victim.

As a practical matter, if there is no insurance, recovery of fair compensation is next to impossible. (Hence the expression, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”) But, what happens when the defendant does have liability insurance but the insurance company becomes insolvent?

Facts of the Case

In a case recently considered on appeal, the plaintiffs were the personal representatives of the estate of a truck driver who was killed in a fatal, multi-vehicle accident that occurred in 2008. After a decade of litigation involving several different defendants and multiple theories of liability, the issue before the Bamberg County Circuit Court was the amount of money damages that the defendant insurance guaranty association owed the plaintiffs after one of the insurance companies involved in the case became insolvent. Continue reading

A South Carolina workers’ compensation case can be very challenging. Even though these laws were purportedly put in place to protect employees and their families against financial hardship due to a work-related injury or death, many workers’ compensation insurance companies will fight hard to avoid paying a claim.

There are several levels of review in such matters, beginning with the decision of a single commissioner and ending in the state supreme court. Most contested cases are settled or otherwise resolved somewhere along this lengthy process.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent (unreported) case decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals was the surviving spouse of a 58-year-old man who worked for the defendant county in its radio and telecommunications department. In September 2014, a criminal suspect barricaded himself in an apartment, leading to a nine-hour standoff that involved over 100 first responders. Two officers were shot during the altercation, and one died. The suspect also died as a result of a gunfire exchange with deputies. The decedent suffered an apparent heart attack while monitoring the county’s radio system during the standoff. He died a short time later.

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When a loved one’s death is caused by another’s negligence or wrongful death, a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit is a possibility for those left behind.

Unfortunately, proving a wrongful death claim against the defendant may be only a part of the process of the decedent’s family receiving fair monetary compensation.

In some cases, obtaining a payout from the defendant’s insurance company may be as problematic as obtaining the verdict or judgment against the defendant.

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In a typical South Carolina car accident lawsuit, it is the injured driver or passenger who files suit. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, an insurance company files what is called a “declaratory judgment action” in order to seek the court’s guidance as to the applicability and/or extent of coverage of a particular claim or set of claims. Such was the situation in a recent appellate case involving a fatal crash that allegedly followed a police chase in Anderson County, South Carolina.

Facts of the Case

In a case filed in the Anderson County Circuit Court and considered by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was an automobile accident liability insurance company that sought declaratory relief following a fatal, one-vehicle accident that occurred in 2008. According to the plaintiff, its insured and two other individuals were riding as passengers in the vehicle at the time of the crash; one of the passengers was killed, and the insured and the other passenger were catastrophically injured. The driver, who was apparently not a party to the civil lawsuit filed by the plaintiff insurance company against the defendant insured and passengers, was the defendant in a separate criminal case in which he pled guilty to reckless homicide (a felony offense in South Carolina).

According to the plaintiff, the insurance policy in effect at the time of the accident had an exclusion for bodily injury caused by anyone who was operating the covered vehicle while committing a felony or fleeing from a law enforcement officer. The trial court found that the provisions at issue were unenforceable because (1) the insurance company had failed to inform the insured of the exclusions or otherwise place them conspicuously on the insurance policy; (2) the exclusions were ambiguous; and (3) the exclusions violated the state’s public policy of protecting innocent insureds,
namely the three passengers who were deemed not at fault in causing the collision.
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A successful legal claim following a serious personal injury or loved one’s wrongful death requires several steps. First and foremost in any South Carolina personal injury lawsuit, the party seeking to recover money damages for another’s failure to act in a reasonably prudent manner must be able to prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owned to the plaintiff, thereby proximately causing him or her legal damages.

While the plaintiff will not be able to recover money damages without proof of the elements of negligence, it is equally true that proof of negligence will not necessarily result in a successful judgment or settlement. One reason for this is that most defendants in negligence cases do not have the independent means to compensate the negligence victim or his or her family.

Rather, most individuals (and businesses and governmental entities, as well) rely heavily on liability insurance coverage to pay out any monies that are ultimately decided (or agreed) are due the accident victim. Without insurance coverage, fair compensation is unlikely, even in an obvious case of negligence.

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Usually, the claimant in a South Carolina workers’ compensation case is a worker who was injured on the job. The “injury” may be a result of an accident, repetitive or cumulative trauma, or even a work-related illness.

When a worker dies as a result of an accident for which he or she would otherwise be entitled to collect workers’ compensation benefits, his or her surviving spouse and dependents – as those terms are specifically defined under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation statutes – may be entitled to death benefits.

Facts of the Case

Most South Carolina wrongful death cases focus on whether the defendant is liable for the death of the plaintiff’s loved ones, but some cases have a different issue – such as the question of who is entitled to share in the proceeds of a settlement entered in the case by the agreement of the parties.

Family relationships matter very much to such determinations, as does strict compliance with the law when it comes to issues such as what constitutes a valid marriage.

Facts of the Case

Proving a case of negligence in a South Carolina car accident case is a four-step process. In order for the defendant to be held liable, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff was harmed, and that there was a link of proximate causation between the breach of duty and the injuries.

If any of the elements is missing, the plaintiff cannot recover money damages against the defendant. Sometimes, disputes arise regarding the admissibility of evidence that the plaintiff proposes to submit on one or more of these issues. When this happens, it is up to the trial court to determine the admissibility of the evidence. If the opposing party so desires, he or she has the option of appealing the trial court’s ruling.

Facts of the Case

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