Reckless Vehicular Homicide and Wrongful Death

The death of a loved one from an accident resulting in reckless vehicular homicide charges is a traumatic experience for loved ones of the victim.  In addition to overwhelming grief, the family may be left with medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of income, and emotional distress.  While no amount of money can make up for the suffering and loss, a wrongful death claim can help the family reach closure and move on with their lives. 

Reckless vehicular homicide cases are on the rise in South Carolina.  There were 43 cases in 2018, an increase of 65% over the previous four years.  A victim can be the driver or passenger of the vehicle that was hit by the reckless driver, a passenger in the same vehicle as the reckless driver, or a pedestrian or bicyclist. 

Penalties in South Carolina

Reckless vehicular homicide is a felony in South Carolina.  A conviction can lead to ten years in prison and/or a $1,000-$5,000 fine.  The drivers license can be revoked for five years.  There must be proof that the driver was a legal cause of the death.  The South Carolina law applies if the victim dies from injuries received within three years of the accident.

To be considered reckless, it must be determined that there was a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others.  In other words, the driver knew that the actions were dangerous, but they did something anyway.  This usually involves driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol but may also include excessive speeding or passing a vehicle on a double yellow line.

Unfortunately, a hole in South Carolina law allows for many drivers who cause fatality accidents due to negligence to be charged only with a traffic violation such as failure to yield or speeding.  Law enforcement has explained that there is just no in-between.  Some state legislators have tried for years to change or strengthen the law.  Other states have stronger laws than South Carolina.  Neighboring Georgia allows first degree homicide charges for vehicle fatality accidents.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Although criminal penalties may be lacking in South Carolina, families of victims may have some recourse through civil lawsuits.  SC Code Section 15-51-10 states “whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default of another”, a civil action for wrongful death is appropriate.  Actions of the driver that may have contributed to the wrongful death may include driving under the influence, fleeing from law enforcement, reckless driving, unlawfully passing a school bus, and leaving the scene of an accident.

Surviving family members of the deceased person or the executor of the estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver.  Beneficiaries can recover damages.  Compensation may be awarded for medical bills, funeral and burial costs, loss of financial support and benefits, emotional distress, travel costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident, as well as punitive damages.

Cases involving the wrongful death of a loved one can be complicated.  At Ryan Montgomery Law, we recommend consulting an experienced wrongful death and personal injury attorney.