Being successful in a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a motor vehicle accident requires that the plaintiff prove the basic elements of negligence (duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation). Unfortunately, however, not every legally sound case results in a fair amount of compensation for the victim’s family.
The second – and more practical – inquiry focuses on the actual payment of the damages award entered by the trial court. If the responsible party does not have adequate insurance (or personal assets) to cover the judgment, the plaintiff could be left with very little, if any, monetary compensation, even in a clear-cut case of liability.
Facts of the Case
In the case of Buchanan v. S.C. Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association, the plaintiffs were the personal representatives of the estate of a man who was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Bamberg, South Carolina. The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death case against the motorist who allegedly caused the wreck, along with the owner of the vehicle that the motorist was driving. While the case was pending, a Florida court declared the vehicle owner’s insurance company insolvent. Thereafter, the defendant association assumed the management of the claim pending against the owner, pursuant to the South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association Act, S.C. Code Ann. §§ 38-31-10 et seq.
After the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the association was to pay $300,000, the statutory limit of the damages available under the Act, to the plaintiffs.
The Association’s Argument on Appeal
The association appealed, arguing that it should not be required to pay anything to the plaintiffs because they had already received a combined payment of $376,622 – more than the $300,000 statutory limit of the Act – from the workers’ compensation carrier of the deceased person’s employer (presumably, the accident happened during the course and scope of the decedent’s employment) and the motorist’s insurance company.
The Ruling of the South Carolina Court of Appeals
The court affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding the association’s calculation of the claimed offset to be flawed. The court noted that the plaintiffs, the motorist, and the owner of the vehicle had entered into an agreement to the effect that the plaintiff had sustained $800,000 in damages due to the accident victim’s wrongful death. Since the vehicle owner had been insured for $1,000,000, and the amount due to the plaintiffs after offsetting the amount recovered from the workers’ compensation and motorist’s insurance companies was $423,378, the association was required by the Act to pay the statutory cap of $300,000 to the plaintiffs.
For Help with Your Loved One’s South Carolina Wrongful Death Case
As this case illustrates, serious challenges can arise in automobile accident cases, even when liability is clear and the defendant is insured. To make sure your family’s interests are protected following a car accident, contact knowledgeable South Carolina wrongful death attorney Patrick E. Knie at (864) 582-5118 to discuss your case. We handle car and truck accident cases in Spartanburg, Greenville, and throughout the state of South Carolina.
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