What Are Common Wrongful Death Case Complications?

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When you have a wrongful death case, you hope for a smooth case process. The recovery you receive is important, and your case occurs as you are grieving the loss of your loved one. You may wonder about things that may make a wrongful death case complicated.

Our wrongful death lawyer shares potential complications that can occur during a case.

7 Things that Can Complicate a Wrongful Death Case

1. Multiple defendants

More than one party may have legal fault for the victim’s death. When there are multiple defendants, it may complicate a wrongful death case.

The plaintiff must identify all defendants and name them in the case. You must prove that each defendant has legal fault and an obligation to pay damages. In response, a defendant may blame someone else. When there are multiple defendants, the jury must apportion liability among the parties.

The jury’s decision may impact how you collect compensation for wrongful death. In South Carolina, if a party is 50% or more at fault, they are obligated to pay the entire judgment. If a party is less than 50% at fault, they have a right of contribution from other defendants.

Multiple defendants can make a wrongful death claim procedurally and factually complicated.

An experienced lawyer can make sure you understand the process and follow the necessary steps.

2. Government defendants

Claims against government defendants follow a special set of rules. The rules apply to all personal injury claims against government defendants, including wrongful death claims.

When there is a government defendant, there are different procedures to follow, including filing a verified claim. There are damage caps that apply for each person and in total for each occurrence.

(See Giannini v. S.C. Department of Transportation, 378 S.C. 573 (2008), where the court reduced verdicts to $200,000 each for three victims. One of the claims was a wrongful death claim. The court found that the verdict reduction did not violate equal protection. In addition, the court affirmed equal apportionment to each victim, saying that the law doesn’t specify otherwise.)

3. Multiple occurrences of negligence

If a wrongful death claim is against a government defendant, the occurrences of negligence may impact the amount of compensation awarded. An occurrence is a single act of negligence and the unfolding sequence of events that flows from it. The law limits recovery for any person to a certain amount for a single occurrence and a maximum total arising out of a single occurrence.

When multiple negligent acts result in a single injury, state entities may be subject to multiple damages awards under the Tort Claims Act. Boiter v. South Carolina Dept. of Transp., 393 S.C. 123, 712 S.E.2d 401 (S.C. 2011).

If you assert multiple acts of negligence, you must present evidence of each occurrence. That means fact witnesses and experts that identify and explain how multiple acted of negligence occurred.

In addition, you must request the appropriate jury instructions, which may include special interrogatories on the verdict form to specify the number of separate occurrences.

4. Defenses to wrongful death

As the plaintiff, you must respond to defenses asserted in the case. You must respond with evidence and arguments.

For example, comparative fault applies in wrongful death claims. The defense may claim assumption of the risk, self-defense, mistaken identity, or another defense. These issues may make your case complicated. Your lawyer can prepare an aggressive response.

5. Who can sue, beneficiaries

The surviving spouse and children are always beneficiaries of a South Carolina wrongful death claim. If there are none, then parents are the beneficiaries. If there are none, then heirs are the beneficiaries. When surviving family relationships are complicated, a wrongful death claim can get complicated, too.

The law in South Carolina is strict — the amount recovered is divided among the beneficiaries as though the victim had died intestate. Even if the victim had a strong relationship with one beneficiary and little relationship with another, the law requires this division. It may seem unfair, and it may quickly make a wrongful death claim complicated.

6. A parent failing to support the decedent while a minor

South Carolina law dictates who is a beneficiary of a wrongful death claim. If there is no spouse or children, parents may be beneficiaries.

However, there is a situation where a parent may be excluded. If a parent failed to reasonably provide support for the decedent during a period of minority, they may be excluded. If this situation applies, it can make your wrongful death case complicated.

7. Structure of the estate

How the victim’s estate is structured can make a wrongful death claim complicated. Often, the victim’s will names one of the beneficiaries as the executor or administrator. This isn’t always the case.

An estate must be opened to confirm the executor or administrator appointment. Only this person has the authority to settle the wrongful death claim. The court can appoint someone else if they decline to serve.

In addition to a wrongful death claim, there may be a survival lawsuit filed by the executor or administrator. A survival action stems from the same events, but it is filed on behalf of the deceased person. Damages are limited to funeral expenses, medical expenses not recovered in the wrongful death claim, and conscious suffering.

Help for a Complicated Wrongful Death Claim

You deserve fair compensation for wrongful death, whether the case is simple or complicated.

It’s important to identify and address ways that your claim may be complex.

At Bobby Jones Law, you can retain an experienced lawyer who understands the ways that a wrongful death claim can get complicated. Robert “Bobby” Jones identifies the key factual and legal issues and prepares a strategy that is personalized to your situation.

Schedule a case evaluation

Is your wrongful death claim complicated? Are you wondering what things might make your case more complex and what you can do about them?

Contact lawyer Robert “Bobby” Jones of Bobby Jones Law. Talk to a lawyer about your situation and get personalized legal advice. We can start representing you today. Contact us now.

The team at Bobby Jones Law LLC works tirelessly for the injured in South Carolina. His achievements include:
  • More than $60 million collected for our clients
  • Multiple recoveries exceeding $1 million, including an eight-figure settlement
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We’re humbled to be considered one of the top firms in the Upstate and invite you to learn what sets our award-winning legal services apart. Call or request a consultation online.
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