For nearly two decades, South Carolina has been among the five U.S. states with the greatest numbers of fatal car accidents. A car wreck occurs in South Carolina once every four minutes, and a fatal crash happens every nine hours. According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), most car accidents are caused by one or more of the following behaviors:
- Driving while impaired by drugs/alcohol
- Reckless driving
- Fatigued or drowsy driving
- Bad weather conditions
- Disobeying traffic signals/signs
- Risky lane changes
- Failure to yield
- Defective equipment
If you’re injured in a vehicle accident that’s not your fault, you may file a claim against the at-fault driver for a personal injury. If you’ve lost a loved one in a car crash, you might be able to file a wrongful death claim against the negligent party who caused the death.
In some cases, both such claims could stem from the same accident—with one victim dying and another surviving with injuries. If you’re the injured survivor and the deceased victim is a family member, you could be filing both claims: personal injury and wrongful death.
To win either a personal injury or a wrongful death claim, you must prove liability by showing evidence that the defendant was negligent. This includes providing proof that:
- The defendant (the at-fault driver in a car crash) had the duty to drive safely and obey traffic laws.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- The defendant’s breach of duty directly led to your injury or a loved one’s death.
- You (the plaintiff) have suffered damages due to the breach and deserve monetary compensation.
There are, however, differences between the two claims in terms of the damages for which you may receive compensation.
In a car accident or other personal injury case, the plaintiff (victim) generally files a claim with the negligent party’s insurance company to receive compensation for economic and non-economic damages, which include:
- All medical expenses
- Lost wages (including salary and benefits) and future earning capacity
- Property damage (repair/replacement of your vehicle and personal items damaged in the accident)
- Legal fees
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of quality of life
- Inability to participate in normal daily activities
When someone dies as a result of another party’s negligence, a close relative of the deceased person may file a wrongful death claim against that party to receive compensation for damages that include:
- The victim’s medical bills for treatment before death
- Funeral costs
- Burial or cremation charges
- Future income the deceased would have earned but for the death caused by the defendant
- Health insurance for dependents of the deceased
- Loss of companionship and consortium by the deceased’s family
- The emotional anguish of the survivors
- Any inheritance, pension, or other benefits the deceased would have received but for the wrongful death
For a successful personal injury or wrongful death claim, there are important things to understand and discuss with your attorney.
The doctrine of negligence per se refers to behavior that is negligent in itself. A South Carolina plaintiff need not prove a defendant’s conduct at the time of a crash was negligent if that conduct was illegal:
- Drunk driving
- Speeding/breaking other traffic laws
- Texting while driving
The official police report of your accident will provide proof of the defendant’s illegal conduct, so it’s vital to report your accident to law enforcement.
Strict Liability for Defective Equipment
If the accident that caused your injury or the death of a loved one was due to defective automotive equipment, the responsible manufacturer or repair service is strictly liable for damages.
Your Own Auto Insurance
Even if the at-fault party was entirely responsible for your injuries and/or your loved one’s death, there are circumstances under which you may have to claim compensation from your own insurer:
- A hit-and-run accident in which the negligent party is unknown
- A crash with an uninsured or underinsured motorist
- A case that takes a long time to resolve where your own insurance initially covers your damages and later files a subrogation claim
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you get compensation from your insurer while you wait for your claim against the defendant to settle or go to trial.
South Carolina law follows a modified comparative fault doctrine for personal injury cases. This means that you can collect compensation for your damages even if you were partially responsible for your own accident. Your award will be reduced according to your percentage of fault as long as you’re found 50% or less responsible. If you’re found 51% or more responsible, you will collect no compensation whatsoever.
If your case goes to trial, the determination of your percentage of fault can be extremely subjective, so you need an attorney who can present your evidence convincingly and prove that you were not more than half responsible for your accident.
Protecting Your Claim
There are things you can do at the scene of the crash to make your claim stronger. If you’re physically able to do so after your wreck, take the following steps to protect your claim:
- Stay at the scene.
- Take photos of the vehicle(s) involved in the crash, including damage and license plates, as well as skid marks, damaged poles or guard rails, and other evidence.
- Exchange contact information with the other driver(s) but do not discuss the accident or argue. Try to remain calm.
- Do not admit any fault to anyone.
- Call 911 and report your accident to the police when they arrive. Give only factual information.
- Get contact information from any witnesses to the crash.
- Note any nearby security or red-light cameras that might have footage of the accident.
- Seek immediate medical treatment to identify and document injuries that might not be immediately apparent.
- Report your accident to your own insurance company.
- Consult a car accident attorney.
- Don’t be in a rush to get your car repaired.
- Don’t discuss your wreck or your injuries on social media.
- Refer calls from insurance adjusters to your lawyer.
Has Your Loved One Died To The Negligence Of Others?
If you're loved one has died due to someone else's negligence you should speak to a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.