The sudden loss of a loved one is a heartbreaking and extremely stressful time for your family. You may know that wrongful death compensation may be available. But how do you go about claiming it? What evidence do you need to have to prove your case? Our wrongful death lawyers explain.
Usually, proving wrongful death means proving the same things as other personal injury claims except that a person loses their life because of their injuries. You show legal liability by showing negligence or another wrongful act that causes the death of the victim.
What is required to prove wrongful death in South Carolina?
To prove wrongful death in South Carolina, you must prove:
A wrongful death claim is a kind of personal injury action. However, rather than injuries, you're bringing the claim based on the death of a family member. You must prove that the victim lost their life.
2. A wrongful act
For legal liability to apply, the party responsible must have committed a wrongful act. Most claims are based on negligence which is a lack of ordinary care. It is usually not intentional conduct, but intentional and reckless conduct does qualify.
In South Carolina, a wrongful act may be neglect, default, or another kind of wrongful act. In general, it is the same kind of action or inaction that would give the victim grounds to bring a personal injury claim if they had survived.
The wrongful act must be the cause of the victim's death. The death must be the natural and probable result of the defendant's actions. To prove causation, you may rely on medical evidence and witnesses to explain what happened to cause the accident and how the victim suffered physical trauma.
A successful wrongful death claim results in damages awarded to the parties who bring the claim. There is no set amount of compensation that you can automatically receive. Instead, compensation depends on the actual losses to the victim. To prove wrongful death damages, you explain the financial and personal situation of the family. You explain the losses that the parties to the case have suffered because of their loved one's death.
5. Standing to bring the claim
South Carolina law creates rules for who has standing to bring a wrongful death claim. The victim's spouse, children, parents, and heirs may have standing depending on who survives the victim. As part of the case, you must identify those involved who are claiming compensation.
(Source: South Carolina Code of Law § 15-51-10 – Civil Action for Wrongful Act Causing Death)
Can you have a wrongful death if there was no autopsy?
While an autopsy may be helpful in a wrongful death claim, you do not have to have one to bring a wrongful death claim. An autopsy may show the cause of death and link the death to the accident, but it is not required.
There are several ways to prove death. Often, the other side doesn't contest that the victim is deceased. Medical professionals may testify, a death certificate may be entered into evidence, and witnesses can testify about the loss of the deceased. An autopsy can be strong evidence, but there is no legal requirement to have one to bring a wrongful death claim.
What evidence do you need to prove a wrongful death claim?
To prove a wrongful death claim, you need evidence to prove each required element. You do not necessarily need to present each kind of evidence, but you must prove each step of your entitlement to compensation. Examples of evidence you may use include:
- Medical records and testimony of medical professionals
- Autopsy or death certificate
- Witness testimony
- Video, photographs
- Laws, rules, and other evidence of the duty of care and reasonable behavior
- Experts to explain technical information
- Accident reconstruction
- Evidence of work logs, maintenance records, testing logs, and vehicle/equipment upkeep records
- Work history and earnings records
- Records of expenses and costs because of the loss of the family member
- Testimony and evidence of family life and relationships
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Written accident reports, internal and police investigation records
While you need evidence of every element, what you should focus on the most depends on the contested issues in the case. The discovery process can help the parties narrow the disputed issues, prepare the case for trial, and aid in the case resolution process.
How do you prove negligence in wrongful death?
Proving negligence in wrongful death is like proving negligence in any other personal injury claim – you must show what the reasonable standard is in that situation and how the defendant failed to live up to it. It is more challenging than other injury cases in that you don't have the benefit of testimony from the victim. They are not there to offer information and help you build the case. The exact evidence you present depends on the nature of the accident and how the defendant's actions fell short of the reasonable person standard.
How do you present a wrongful death case at trial?
If a wrongful death case goes to trial, the plaintiff presents their case first. They may call witnesses and move to admit evidence in the order they choose. The defense may question the witnesses.
Once you present your case, the defense may present their case. You can cross-examine witnesses that they call and challenge the admission of evidence.
Ultimately, it is the jury that decides how to weigh the evidence. Each party may make a closing argument to help the jury understand the evidence. Your lawyers can put their experience to work to help you make a compelling case.
*Most cases don't go to trial. Talk to our team of wrongful death lawyers about your goals and how we can help you achieve them.
Attorneys for Proving Wrongful Death
Have you lost a loved one to an accident? Are you wondering if you can prove a wrongful death claim? Let our wrongful death lawyers help you evaluate your claim, determine what you need to succeed, and build a strong claim on your behalf.
We serve families throughout South Carolina. Contact us today to begin.
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