Columbia Wrongful Death Lawyer
Auger & Auger is a family firm, and we understand the pain of losing a loved one. You may feel you have nowhere to turn and aren’t capable of recourse when the death is caused by negligence or, perhaps worse, misconduct. Not so. Our Columbia wrongful death attorney is ready to offer you the legal advice and guidance you need. We will walk with you every step of the way as you seek the compensation to which you are legally entitled. You do not have to take this heartbreaking journey alone.
People sometimes talk about whether they prefer to pass suddenly rather than experience a slower death. It’s a debate had over dinner with a spouse or a conversation held with coworkers at the water cooler. Everyone has their own opinion, but there is one thing on which people tend to agree — when it comes to the death of a loved one, we would prefer time to prepare everything and time to say goodbye.
Wrongful Death Cases Are Unique
Very few wrongful death cases are the same. There are different scenarios that lead to these lawsuits being filed. The one common element is that someone’s family member has died unexpectedly due to the behavior or negligence of another. A civil suit may be pursued when the death is caused by:
- A car or truck accident
- A motorcycle accident
- Medical malpractice
- A product malfunction
- An animal attack
- Slip and falls
- A workplace accident
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
If your loved one died due to any wrongdoing or incompetence of another, our Columbia wrongful death attorney is available to advocate on your behalf. A wrongful death case is different from other personal injury actions because the victim isn’t here to file. In some states, a surviving spouse or child must bring a complaint, but South Carolina works differently.
Executors Initiate Civil Actions
When a person is wrongfully killed in Columbia, the law dictates that the administrator or executor of the estate must file the lawsuit. When a favorable settlement or verdict is reached, it is up to that person to distribute the award first to the surviving spouse and children. The award is disbursed to the parents if there are no immediate dependents.
In the case where there is no spouse, children, or parent of the deceased, the next rightful heir receives compensation. When a person loses their life and leaves no one behind, there is no wrongful death proceeding.
An executor is usually chosen when a person writes their will. If your loved one passed without a will, the probate court will appoint an executor, frequently a surviving spouse, adult child, sibling, or another relative. You can ask the court to make you an executor if one hasn’t been selected yet.
What’s the Difference Between a Wrongful Death and a Tragic Accident?
We hear many variations of this question. Sometimes people who have lost a loved one simply want to know what happened and if their loved one’s death could have been avoided. Even when a person’s death is “accidental,” their family members may still wonder if it could have been prevented.
In some circumstances, people die in truly accidental ways that can’t be prevented or foreseen. However, in many cases, death was caused by the negligent actions of another party. We see this most frequently with traffic accidents. Except for “acts of God” or unpredictable, unpreventable hazards, in most car accidents, at least one of the drivers is at fault. Under South Carolina law, both parties may be assigned a percentage of fault. If the decedent was less than 50 percent responsible for the accident, their estate might still be able to collect damages.
South Carolina defines a “wrongful death” as one which is brought on by a “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another person or entity. The state essentially views a wrongful death claim as a personal injury claim in which the victim is not alive to file the claim on their own. As a result, a wrongful death claim requires the plaintiff (in this case, the executor of the decedent’s estate) to prove the following:
- The defendant (the person or entity being sued) had a “duty of care” to others. This duty of care varies depending on the situation. Regarding auto accidents, each driver has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to avoid a collision, like obeying traffic laws and keeping their eyes on the road. A doctor treating a patient has a duty to provide appropriate care that meets professional standards. An employer has a duty of care to take steps to keep their workers reasonably safe on a jobsite.
- The defendant failed to carry out this duty of care. For example, we might say that a driver failed in their duty of care if they caused an accident while texting and driving, and another person was injured or killed. Your attorney will need to show what the negligent party did specifically that caused them to fail in their duty.
- The deceased suffered an injury as the result of this failed duty of care, and that injury led to their death. Whether or not this is easy to prove varies widely – in some cases, it is fairly simple to prove that a person suffered an injury and died as a result. In other cases where the cause of death is less clear, it may be very difficult.
What if you’re not sure if your loved one’s death was a wrongful one? We recommend you speak with a Columbia wrongful death attorney who offers free consultations. They will go over the details of your loved one’s death and discuss if another party did or did not have a duty of care, if there is evidence that duty was breached, and how difficult it might be to prove that this led to the decedent’s death.
What About the Difference Between a Wrongful Death and a Criminal Act?
Sometimes, the client doesn’t question whether the decedent’s death was an accident. They may be convinced that another party’s actions not only caused the death but did so in a way that was intentional and rises to the level of criminality. If this is the case, they’ve probably come to see us because the criminal justice system failed to give them the justice they were seeking.
There are multiple possible reasons why people sometimes are not charged with or convicted of crimes, even if their behavior caused another person’s death:
- There simply isn’t enough evidence to convict the person. Prosecutor’s offices around the state are very busy places. They can’t try every case, so they focus on ones where they believe they have a good chance of winning. If the evidence of criminal activity is thin, they may decline to press charges. Although this is very frustrating for the victim’s family, it’s often the right call – even when a case is brought to court with significant evidence, sometimes the defendant is found not guilty.
- Sometimes, evidence is “excluded” in a trial. During the discovery process, the prosecutor and the defense attorney share evidence with each other, so everyone knows what to expect at trial. The defense attorney can ask that specific evidence be excluded or not allowed to be used in the trial on a variety of grounds. One example would be if the evidence wasn’t properly handled or stored by law enforcement, the defense attorney could argue that it shouldn’t be admitted. Sometimes, the defense attorney is successful in convincing a judge to exclude evidence, and this makes it more difficult for the prosecutor to get a conviction.
- The burden of proof for a criminal trial is very high. To convict someone of murder, manslaughter, assault and battery, or other criminal charges, a jury must find the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge instructs the jury on this point, usually right before they go to deliberate. If they think the defendant may have committed the crime, but they can’t be sure beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury needs to find the defendant not guilty. Sometimes the evidence isn’t enough for jury members to believe the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other cases, they may find expert witnesses unconvincing, or they may believe the defendant’s version of what happened.
- In some situations, the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a “hung jury,” and the prosecutor may opt not to re-try the case.
It’s helpful to understand that the rules for a civil court proceeding are a bit different. Here the jury only has to find that the defendant is guilty “more likely than not,” based on a “preponderance of evidence.” This is a much lower burden than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so it is often easier to win a wrongful death suit than a criminal case.
There are several prominent examples of cases where a criminal court case ended in an acquittal, but the victim’s family successfully sued in civil court. One is the famous case of O. J. Simpson, who was acquitted on two murder charges in 1995, only to later lose a civil suit brought by the victims’ families. Another is the case of actor Robert Blake, who was acquitted in the death of his wife in 2005, but found liable for $30 million (later reduced to $15 million) in a civil suit.
If you believe another party caused your loved one’s death, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim, whether or not the other party was ever charged or convicted of a crime. A Columbia wrongful death attorney can help you understand the options for seeking compensation.
What Kind of Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
It’s very difficult to think about measuring a person’s life in dollars, but unfortunately, this is the only way the court can compensate someone for their loss. And while receiving a check can never replace your loved one, it can allow you to focus on your family during a difficult time instead of struggling to pay your bills. This compensation can also be used to do things the deceased would have wanted to do themselves – for example, paying for their kids’ education or giving to a cause they deeply cared about.
In arriving at an amount of compensation to seek, your attorney will ask you questions to determine your economic (financial) and non-economic losses. These include:
- Funeral and other final expenses.
- Final medical bills related to the cause of death.
- Lost income and other financial benefits (such as being on a spouse’s insurance through their workplace).
- Loss of the beneficial aspects of a relationship with the deceased – care, companionship, advice, knowledge, emotional support, etc.
- The pain and suffering of the surviving spouse, children, or other relatives.
- Punitive or exemplary damages are not awarded in most cases, but occasionally they are added to the award if the defendant’s actions were brazenly reckless or intentional.
Our Family Is Here for Yours
Making decisions when a loved one suffers a sudden death, at no fault of their own, feels impossible. You and your family are grieving and dealing with overwhelming emotions. This just adds to why you need an experienced attorney providing guidance regarding your rights. Compensation may be available to survivors, and we will use our many decades of experience to prove that you deserve a fair settlement.
No one at Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers wants you to feel as though we are adding to your burden. Our zero-fee guarantee is a promise to you that we will dedicate ourselves to your case and not ask for a single payment unless we win. We know that you are having a difficult time taking control of this situation, so let us carry the workload for you. Call (803) 470-5298 today for your free consultation, with no fees due until recovery!