DRUNK DRIVING AND WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUITS


Alcohol impairment is one of the leading causes of traffic collisions. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there was an alcohol-impaired traffic fatality every 48 minutes in 2017.  Based on the legal definition of impaired driving, alcohol-impaired crashes are those that involve at least one driver or a motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter or above.

According to NHTSA 10,874 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2017. Alcohol-impaired crash fatalities accounted for 29 percent of all crash fatalities. Unfortunately, the DUI arrest rate is much lower.  Statistics show that  with nearly a million drivers were arrested in 2016 for driving under the influence  compared to the 111 million self-reported incidents of alcohol-impaired driving that same year.

If you’ve lost a loved one in a DUI crash, you may be wondering what legal action you can take. Depending on the specifics of the case, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

WHAT IS A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?

Wrongful death laws allow survivors to pursue monetary compensation for those whose negligence or intentional act of harm caused a loved one’s death. Each state has its own wrongful death statute which governs how a wrongful death action is brought, the types of civil damages that are recoverable, and which family members are allowed to receive compensation. In South Carolina, a wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury claim, except the estate of the deceased person steps in to seek compensation on their behalf.  The wrongful death action can only be brought by a person that is determined by the court to be the “personal representative.”  So, not just any family members of the deceased to file the claim.

HOW STATE LAWS AFFECT DAMAGES

Though many DUI crashes result in criminal charges, some do not. If your loved one was killed in a drug or alcohol related collision, and the driver was not charged by the police, you still may be able to file a wrongful death claim in civil court.

South Carolina law also affect how damages are handled. Because a wrongful death case is a civil claim, liability comes in the form of damages, rather than punishment by imprisonment or other penalties that can be decided in a criminal case.  South Carolina law the recovery of “compensatory damages, which includes the following:

  1. Pecuniary Loss – the loss of the deceased’s ability to earn money in which the beneficiary might logically and reasonable have been expected to share, such as money for the care and protection of the deceased’s spouse and children and for the education and training of the deceased’s children. Where the relationship of husband and wife or parent and child exists, pecuniary loss will be presumed.
  2. Mental Shock and Suffering.
  3. Wounded Feelings.
  4. Grief and Sorrow.
  5. Loss of Companionship.
  6. Loss of the use and comfort of the deceased’s society, including the loss of the deceased’s experience, knowledge, and judgment in managing the affairs of the deceased and his or her beneficiaries.
  7. medical and funeral expenses

In cases involving a drunk or impaired driver, South Carolina law may also permit punitive damages, which are designed the punish a defendant who’s found negligent and deter similar negligent actions in future.

WHEN TO FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT

When a loved one dies in an alcohol-related crash, family members are often left stunned and unsure where to turn for help. Seeking legal advice immediately following the accident is advised, as evidence can be collected and eyewitnesses can be contacted. Memories get fuzzy, damages get repaired and the chance of video or photographic evidence being deleted or lost rises as time passes. Acting quickly is the best way to ensure as much evidence as possible is collected.  You should never delay in determining your legal rights.

It is important to know that each state has a unique statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations is the legal principle that sets a time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. In South Carolina, a case generally must be filed within three (3) years of the date of the collision.  In certain situations, this statute of limitations may be shortened to two (2) years if for some reason the case is governed by the S.C. Tort Claims Act.  It is important to understand that if you fail to bring the case within the applicable statute of limitations period, you will forfeit your rights to assert any action.

LEGAL HELP FOR WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS IN SOUTH CAROLINA

If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim, it’s wise to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can answer any questions you have about your case.

The attorneys at Goings Law Firm, LLC have represented many families who have lost loved ones in tragic accidents. Our team understands the importance of working quickly to gather evidence that can be used to help us fight for the justice you deserve. We have extensive experience representing the families of victims  and other wrongful death claims in Alabama.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone getting behind the wheel when they were intoxicated or otherwise acting irresponsibly, call (803) 350-9230 or contact us online for a FREE case evaluation.