Like most civil lawsuits, in a personal injury case a plaintiff – or the person initiating the lawsuit in court – bears the burden of proof. This applies to both establishing that an injury occurred for which monetary compensation is an adequate remedy and that the fault of the accident was the defendant’s. Because determining fault in a South Carolina car accident is not always easily established, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive auto accident attorney to handle your case.
Comparative Negligence, Damages for Personal Injuries
Under South Carolina law, a legal doctrine known as “comparative negligence theory” is used to calculate damages in personal injury cases. Commonly referred to as comparative fault, this legal theory is used to determine which party will be held responsible for monetary damages in the scenario when one party is found to be more at fault for the crash than the other. Under this theory, if one of the parties is able to prove to the court and jury that the other party (1) contributed to the injuries suffered and (2) that party was more at fault for the accident than the other, comparative negligence theory will be applied by the court.
When a South Carolina court uses the comparative negligence rule, each party’s liability for monetary damages is reduced according to the amount of percentage the party is found to be at fault. Furthermore, when the party bringing the personal injury lawsuit – known as the plaintiff – is found to be at least 51 percent at fault for the accident, he or she receives no monetary compensation. Commonly referred to as the “51 percent bar,” when this happens the plaintiff’s damages award drops to zero. It is essential for a personal injury plaintiff to understand the possibility of this outcome. In other words, under comparative negligence theory, even if a South Carolina personal injury plaintiff is found to be at fault for the auto accident, he or she can still recover – if a jury finds him or her to be less at fault than the defendant.
Wrongful Death Claims
Sometimes a South Carolina car accident results in a death. State law allows for the surviving family members of the deceased to file suit in a specific personal injury action known as a wrongful death. South Carolina law defines wrongful death as a fatality that is caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another. The described act must be the kind of behavior for which a personal injury lawsuit could have been filed if the person had not passed away. State law allows for wrongful death suits to be brought by the administrator or executor of the deceased’s estate. This is often a person who is named in the deceased’s estate plan (i.e. will or trust). If no one is named in the estate plan, the court may appoint someone.
Unlike a personal injury suit, which is filed by the injured victim, a wrongful death claim is pursued on behalf of the surviving family members of the deceased. South Carolina law allows the following individuals to file a wrongful death claim: the surviving spouse and children of the deceased; surviving parents of the deceased if there are no surviving children or spouse; and the heirs at law of the deceased, if there are no surviving parents, spouse or children.
Proving Wrongful Death, Damages Available
In a wrongful death claim, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the:
- Defendant was negligent or strictly liable for the victim’s death;
- Wrongful death was caused (in whole or in part) by the acts of the defendant;
- Victim has a surviving spouse, children, dependents or beneficiaries; and
- Damages (economic and non-economic) resulted from the death of the victim.
If successful, liability in a wrongful death suit results in monetary damages being awarded to the plaintiff, which must be paid by the defendant(s). Damages awarded may include, but are not limited to:
- Medical and funeral expenses;
- Loss of future wages (until retirement or natural death);
- Loss of benefits;
- Pain and suffering, both leading up to victim’s death and for survivors;
- Property damages as well as other financial losses; and
- Loss of inheritance as a result of untimely death.
South Carolina allows for punitive damages to be awarded if the plaintiff can establish that the conduct that caused the wrongful death was reckless or deliberate. This monetary compensation is awarded in addition to the above listed damages, and its purpose is to punish defendant and deter the bad behavior in the future.
Statute of Limitations
It is important to note that statutes of limitations – or the time limit during which a suit can be filed or it will be barred forever – govern
s both personal injury and wrongful death suits. State law only allows for a certain amount of time to pass before a personal injury or wrongful death case cannot be brought before a judge and/or jury. In other words, if a plaintiff waits too long to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit the result could be the inability to file at all, as strict statutory time limits govern these cases. In South Carolina, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of death. The same time frame, three years from the date of the injury or from the date the injury is discovered – is imposed on a personal injury lawsuit.
Should a plaintiff make the mistake of waiting beyond this time frame, the case will be barred forever, simply due to the passage of time. If a plaintiff is filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a municipality or county, the time limit is typically even shorter.
During personal injury or wrongful death cases, the medical and other evidence often presented by attorneys for either side can vary depending on the facts of each case. Some evidence proffered may include videos, medical records, or photos of the accident, and medical expenses as well as other factually relevant information.
Legal Help in South Carolina
Several factors are involved in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Not only can these cases can be complex, but timing is essential to having your case heard. If you or someone you know has been injured in a South Carolina auto accident – or someone has been tragically killed – due to the negligence of another, contact a skilled Greenville auto accident attorney right away. The skilled attorney at the Law Office of H. Chase Harbin will fight aggressively on your side to obtain the compensation to which you and your loved ones are entitled. Call toll free today to schedule your initial case evaluation.
Chase Harbin is a Criminal Defense Lawyer who practices in Pickens and Greenville, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 17 years now. Chase Harbin believes in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.