South Carolina Court Holds that Bigamous “Husband” Could Not Share in Wrongful Death Settlement Proceeds

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

In a case recently decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a woman who died while a passenger in an ambulance operated by the defendant medical transportation company. After the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a settlement agreement in the amount of $2,250,000, the plaintiff filed a petition to determine the heirship to the decedent’s estate. In the petition, the plaintiff alleged that the man who purported to be the deceased woman’s “husband” was not, in fact, her spouse because, at the time of their attempted “marriage,” he was married to another woman.

The circuit court agreed that the purported husband was not the deceased woman’s lawful husband; since he was still married to someone else at the time that he attempted to marry the decedent, their alleged marriage was void from its inception. There being no evidence offered by the “husband” as to a common law marriage (other than the fact that the estate originally thought he was the decedent’s spouse), the circuit court declared that the purported husband was not an heir of the deceased woman’s estate and, therefore, was not to share in the proceeds of the settlement obtained against the transportation company for the woman’s wrongful death.

Decision of the Court of Appeals

On appeal, the purported husband argued that the estate was judicially bound to its pleadings in the wrongful death lawsuit (in which it was averred that he was the lawful spouse of the decedent) and that the personal representative could not take a contrary position in order to deny his status as an heir. The reviewing court did not agree with this argument, holding that the marriage alleged by the purported husband contravened public policy as expressed by the South Carolina General Assembly. The court acknowledged that, ordinarily, the estate would be bound by its prior assertions, but it held that in this case that rule was overridden by the state’s policy against bigamous marriages.

Consult a South Carolina Wrongful Death Lawyer

The experienced South Carolina wrongful death and personal injury legal team at the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices offer a compassionate yet thorough and assertive approach to wrongful death litigation. We believe that families who have lost a loved one because of another party’s negligence or reckless conduct deserve to recover every penny to which they are legally entitled, and we fight hard to see that our clients are fully compensated for their losses. To schedule an appointment in our Spartanburg or Greenville offices, call us at 864-582-5118 and ask for a free, confidential case evaluation at your earliest convenience.

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