When you lose a loved one in an accident, it’s right—and even good—to consider pursuing legal action in a wrongful death and survival case. It may prevent another family from suffering the same needless loss as you, as we noted in an earlier article on why injury law is needed.
The settlement can also provide desperately needed financial benefits to replace lost income to support a spouse and children stripped of a wage earner.
And there’s a justified emotional component too—it vindicates the rights of the victim and family by holding the wrongdoer accountable.
To protect the rights of those who need the settlement the most, South Carolina law sets out how settlements are split in these cases.
If you read our article on wrongful death and survival cases above, you know these cases often have two parts. I’ll show you how each works.
Wrongful Death Settlement Shares
South Carolina Code section 15-51-40 requires death settlements to be divided among certain family members. This means the victim’s will isn’t a factor.
Basically, the settlement is typically divided as follows:
- Surviving spouse. The spouse gets one-half. If there are no surviving children, the spouse gets it all.
- Children. If there is a surviving spouse, the children equally divide the other half. So if an accident claims a husband and father of three children, half the settlement goes to his widow, while the three children split the other half. If there is no surviving spouse, the children get it all. Side note: under law, children do not actually receive their shares of a settlement before they’re adults.
- Parents. If there is no surviving spouse or children, parents split the settlement equally. But if a probate court judge finds a parent didn’t support the victim during childhood, the judge can deny or limit that parent’s share.
These are typical splits. Other unique family situations may cause a different result.
Survival Settlement Splits
Survival benefits are for the victim’s estate. This money is an estate asset that must go through probate. After that, any remainder gets distributed according to the victim’s will. If the victim left no will, the money gets divided according to probate law—which is similar to, but a little different from, the wrongful death settlement splits above.
To keep funds from being tied up in probate or possibly falling prey to estate taxes, I usually advise clients to divide settlements so the survival part just pays medical and funeral bills, if we can.
If You Have To Ask, You Need To Know.
Just figuring out who qualifies to participate in a death settlement can be confusing, which is the last thing grieving family members need. You’ve already been through so much. You don’t need to relive this awful experience over and over again by trying to deal with it yourself. And insurance companies take advantage of grief and fatigue to shortchange victims’ families in cases like this.
Plus, the settlement’s going to land you in court anyway. You need a lawyer to give you assurance your benefits will be maximized in this one-time chance to make the victim’s voice heard and provide for a grieving family.
If you’ve got questions whether a family member’s passing away qualifies for a fatal accident settlement, feel free to fill out the electronic form right on this page to get answers from an experienced wrongful death attorney.