Wrongful Death Settlement Distribution and Amounts in South Carolina

Wrongful death settlement distribution in SC

If you lose a loved one in an accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Depending on the facts of the case, this may include filing a wrongful death lawsuit and/or a survival action. These types of personal injury claims are a way for grieving families to seek justice as well as financial compensation for their losses.

Under South Carolina law, wrongful death lawsuits can only be filed by certain family members. If a settlement is reached (usually with the defendant’s insurance company), then the law also provides for a specific distribution of proceeds. A wrongful death lawsuit is shared between a surviving spouse, children, or parents (if no surviving spouse or children).

After the loss of a loved one, it may be difficult to think of filing a lawsuit. However, if your family member died because of someone else’s negligence, then you may be entitled to money that can help you move forward with your life. To learn more, reach out to an SC personal injury attorney for a free consultation.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Distributed?

Under South Carolina law, family members may file a lawsuit if their loved one is killed by the negligent or intentional conduct of another person. Through a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs may be able to recover money for losses such as:

  • Funeral or burial experiences;
  • Lost wages that the deceased person would have earned;
  • Medical bills for treatment of the injuries that led to death;
  • Property damage;
  • Pain and suffering of the family members;
  • Loss of care and companionship; and
  • Punitive damages (in cases where the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly).

These lawsuits may be filed by a surviving spouse and/or children. If the decedent (person who died) did not have a spouse or children at the time of their death, then their parents may file a wrongful death claim. In situations where the decedent did not have a surviving spouse, children, or living parents, then anyone who would be entitled to inherit under their will (heirs) can file a wrongful death claim.

A settlement in a wrongful death case is distributed according to South Carolina law. Specifically, it must be divided as an estate would be if the decedent had died without a will (known as intestate succession). 

Under these laws, if the decedent only left behind a surviving spouse, they would be entitled to 100% of the settlement. If the decedent had children, then the surviving spouse will receive 50%, and the children will split the remaining amount. If there is no surviving spouse, then the children split the entire amount of the settlement.

In cases where a decedent did not leave behind a surviving spouse of children, then their parents get 100% of the settlement. However, if one or both parents did not support the decedent during their childhood, then a judge may limit or deny their share of the wrongful death settlement. For example, an absentee father who did not physically or financially care for a child may be barred from recovering any part of a wrongful death settlement for that child.

If other family members are able to file a wrongful death lawsuit (when there is no surviving spouse, children, or parents), then they will split the wrongful death settlement according to intestate succession laws. These cases can be complicated, which is why it is important to consult with a South Carolina wrongful death attorney to determine your rights and options for pursuing a lawsuit.

Wrongful Death Settlement Amounts in SC

The value of a wrongful death settlement depends on a number of factors, such as the age of the person who died, their earning capacity and income at the time of their death, their health at the time of their death, and the age and circumstances of their dependents. For example, a lawsuit for the death of an 85-year-old retiree with no dependent children or surviving spouse would probably result in a lower settlement than a claim for the death of a 45-year-old with 3 minor children and a surviving spouse.

Unfortunately, the SC legislature cuts off how much victims can recover financially if the negligent party falls into one of these categories.

  1. Government – This includes vehicle crashes caused by city, county, or state employees while they were operating a government vehicle like a city bus, police car, or school bus. The limit for these wrongful death settlements is $300,000 and you are not entitled to punitive damages. 
  2. Charities – SC law defines a charity as basically any organization that is tax-exempt. Not only does that include non-profit organizations but also churches and other religious entities. The settlement limit is the same as it is for the Government, $300,000 and again, no punitive damages can be awarded. 
  3. Medical Malpractice – This all depends on if the doctor, nurse, hospital, clinic, or facility responsible is government-affiliated in any way. The county health department, for example, would fall under the government umbrella and have a max set at $300,000. Limits may be expanded if you can prove more than one careless act caused the fatality. 

How Are Survival Settlements Split?

A survival action is different from a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead of compensating family members for their losses related to their loved one’s death, it provides money for the decedent’s suffering before they died. This type of claim is filed by the estate of the decedent, rather than by the affected family members.

Another way to think of a survival action is that it is a lawsuit that the injury victim could have filed had they survived the accident. For example, a man suffers catastrophic injuries in a motorcycle accident. He lives for 3 months before dying. A survival action could seek compensation for any damages that the man suffered between the accident and their death, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and even punitive damages.

A survival action is brought on behalf of the victim’s estate, and so any money that results from this type of claim is distributed through the estate. If the decedent died with a will, the money from a survival settlement will be divided according to the terms of their will. Otherwise, it will be divided according to the laws of intestate succession.

We’re Here for You

There are few things more tragic than losing a loved one suddenly in an accident. The decision to file a lawsuit against the person who caused their death can be a difficult one. While money won’t make you whole again, it can provide a financial cushion in the aftermath of such a loss.

The Derrick Law Office represents people in the greater Simpsonville, South Carolina area who have been injured in all types of accidents. We offer free consultations for all prospective clients and handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with an SC wrongful death attorney, give our law firm a call at 864-531-7765 or fill out our online contact form.

See Also: The Difference Between a Wrongful Death and Survival Action in South Carolina