South Carolina Court Rules that Wrongful Death, Negligent Hiring, and Civil Rights Violation Were Single Occurrence Under Liability Insurance Policy

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.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a man who died as a result of a police shooting. The plaintiff sued both the police officer and the defendant for which he worked in the Circuit Court of Colleton County, asserting claims for negligence and wrongful death. The suit resulted in a $7.5 million verdict for actual damages, plus an additional $90 million in punitive damages. The plaintiff also brought suit in federal court for violation of the defendant’s civil rights.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action against the defendant insurance fund, seeking a declaration that there was a contract of insurance in place between the policy department and the defendant that provided $1 million in insurance coverage for each independent, separate act of negligence.

The circuit court found that there was ambiguity as to whether “occurrence” was defined by different acts of negligence or the resulting damage, that the plaintiff had suffered separate and distinct damages which could lead to additional coverage under the separate causes of action, and that a tort claim for bad faith against the defendant was subject to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.

Decision of the Court

The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. On appeal, the parties agreed to litigate only two issues: first, was there more than $1 million in indemnity coverage available to the plaintiff with respect to her claims for the hiring, retention, and supervision of the officer and the shooting death of the decedent; and two, would a tort claim for bad faith against the defendant be subject to the Act.

As to the first question, the court found that when both a bodily injury and another offense constituting personal injury occurred, the bodily injury was deemed part of the personal injury for insurance coverage purposes. Here, the resulting injury was the same for both the plaintiff’s negligence claims and the civil rights claims; thus, the resulting injury did not constitute a separate bodily injury under the insurance coverage contract. They also found that the circuit court had erred in holding that the plaintiff’s wrongful death and survivorship claims were separate for purposes of coverage; in other words, the plaintiff’s recovery was limited to $1 million in total for all of her claims in both of her suit, not $1 million for each of her claims.

With regard to the lower court’s ruling concerning that the plaintiff’s tort claim against the defendant for bad faith was subject to the Act, the appellate court found no error. In so holding, the court acknowledged that this was a different issue than whether a claim for breach of the coverage contract would be subject to the Act.

An Experienced South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney

Losing a loved one is never easy. It is even more difficult when the death was caused by another’s negligence or wrongful conduct. If you have recently lost a family member and are wondering if you may have a claim against the individual, business, or governmental entity responsible for your loved one’s death, you should talk to a knowledgeable South Carolina wrongful death lawyer. For an appointment to discuss your case with a member of our legal team, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville.

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