South Carolina Appellate Court Holds That Automobile Liability Insurer Owes No Coverage for Infant Child’s Death from Complications of Hypothermia After Being Left in Father’s Truck

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.

Facts of the Case

A recent case arising in Darlington County, South Carolina, arose due to the death of an infant who died of complications of hypothermia after she was left inside a vehicle for approximately seven hours. The plaintiff in the case was an insurance company that sought a declaratory judgment as to whether it had a duty to defend and provide liability and uninsured motorist coverage to the child’s mother, father, and grandmother. The circuit court entered an order finding the defendants’ claims arising from the minor child’s death were excluded from coverage and that the insurance company had no duty to defend or
indemnify the defendants.

On appeal, the defendants argued that the lower court had committed reversible error in finding that the insurance policies issued by the plaintiff to the defendants provided no coverage for the infant’s death and determining that the minor child was a resident relative of only her mother’s home (the mother and father lived apart at the time of the child’s death and had never cohabited).

Decision of the Court

The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In the reviewing court’s opinion, the defendant father’s act of leaving the minor child in his truck for several hours constituted “an act of independent significance” that broke any causal connection between the use of the truck and the child’s death. Additionally, the court opined that there was no acceptable proof offered by the defendants to support their argument that the vehicle was “being used in transportation” during the time that the infant was left alone in the vehicle. Finally, the court agreed with the insurance company that the evidence supported the circuit court’s finding that the minor child was a resident of only the mother’s household.

Under the circumstances, the appellate court was in agreement with the circuit court that the insurance company owed no coverage for the minor child’s death.

How to Schedule a Free Consultation with a South Carolina Negligence Lawyer

Laws concerning personal injury, wrongful death, and insurance coverage are ever evolving. At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville, our experienced South Carolina attorney works hard to stay abreast of the latest developments and to represent our clients as effectively and assertively as possible. To schedule an appointment to talk with us about your particular situation, call us now at 864-582-5118. We handle a wide variety of negligence cases, including car wrecks, work injuries, nursing home and medical malpractice cases, and insurance company bad faith claims.

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