When a loved one suddenly dies, those left behind experience overwhelming grief. When a loved one suddenly passes away due to a drunk driver’s egregious behavior, there is the added element of anger. In these situations, the family is often looking for someone to be held accountable for the loss of their loved one. In this situation, the family may have a claim for wrongful death.
DUI Statistics in South Carolina
Based on recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, the number of DUI related deaths was up on a national level, with South Carolina leading the pack as one of the worst states.
In 2016, there were 331 DUI-related deaths, which was an increase of 24 deaths from 2015. The state ranks 6th in the United States in this statistic, despite ranking 23rd in population. Thirty-three percent of all motor vehicle fatalities were DUI related, putting South Carolina higher than the national average of 28 percent. Nationwide, drunk driving deaths topped out at 10,497, which was up 177 from the year before.
Wrongful Death Claims
In South Carolina, family members can file a wrongful death claim against the party who caused the death. Wrongful death claims can be filed by immediate family members like a surviving spouse, the decedent’s children, or the deceased’s parents if there are no children or spouse. The heirs of the decedent may also be able to file, provided there are no surviving aforementioned family members.
In a situation where the wrongful death involved driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there may be some liability against a restaurant or bar, as well. For example, if the driver was visibly intoxicated and the bar continued to serve him or her, it could face liability as well.
Wrongful Death Damages
Damages that are typically awarded in wrongful death claims may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering
In some cases, punitive damages might be included in a damage award. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and can apply in situations where the court establishes deliberate or reckless behavior. In cases involving drunk drivers, punitive damages are almost always included in the demand for damages. And, it’s important to note that South Carolina has no cap on punitive damages when the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Wrongful Death versus Survivorship Claims
South Carolina law also provides for the pursuit of a survival action, which is a similar cause of action. Survival claims occur when the deceased’s estate sues for injuries or damages the victim suffered immediately prior to his or her death. If the deceased had not died in the accident, these are the claims he or she could’ve filed directly.
Contacting a South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney
Handling your family member’s affairs after his or her untimely death is an exhausting and emotional experience. If your loved one was killed as the result of a drunk driver, you need to let a skilled South Carolina wrongful death attorney help file a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death lawsuits are complex, which is why it’s best to involve an attorney right from the start, rather than negotiating with the insurance carrier on your own. Contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm and let our legal team help you through this challenging time.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.