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Trusts & Estates – Minor’s Wrongful Death – Biological Father

By: Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//August 10, 2018

Trusts & Estates – Minor’s Wrongful Death – Biological Father

By: Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//August 10, 2018

Even though defendant did not know for sure that he was the biological father of a child until sometime after she died (an hour after her birth), he is not entitled to share in the proceeds of the plaintiff-mother’s wrongful death action because he did not help to pay for prenatal care or funeral expenses.

We reverse the circuit court’s order in defendant’s favor.

S.C. Code Ann. § 15-51-40 prohibits a parent from sharing in the wrongful death proceeds of his child if he “failed to reasonably provide support for the decedent as defined in Section 63-5-20 and did not otherwise provide for the needs of the decedent during his or her minority.”

The circuit court overturned the probate court ruling and instead held that defendant could share in the wrongful death proceeds because he had no chance to provide for the child during her minority – the hour she was alive.

Although Medicaid paid most of the medical expenses associated with the child’s birth and emergency treatment, the law imposes a duty on parents to pay their children’s reasonable and necessary medical expenses. Defendant is able-bodied and capable of earning a livelihood; in fact he works for a major corporation.

Furthermore, a family court may order child support to include “the providing of necessary shelter, food, clothing, care, medical attention, expenses of confinement, both before and after the birth, the expense of educating his or her child and other proper and reasonable expenses.” S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530 (A)(15).

In addition, the child’s funeral and burial costs are necessities her parents were obligated to provide.

The circuit court erred in reading into § 63-5-20(A) a requirement that the necessities be incurred during the child’s minority. We hold the term “minority” as used in § 15-51-40 does not limit or affect the duty § 63-5-20 imposes on parents to provide for their child’s necessities. To rule otherwise would insulate a parent from liability not only for a minor child’s funeral and burial expenses, but also for pre-natal care.

Such a result would undercut the clear legislative intent to the contrary expressed in similar statutes addressing parental support obligations. The greater weight of the evidence showed defendant failed to reasonably support his daughter.

Nor did defendant “otherwise provide” for the needs of his daughter.

Using the circuit court’s construction, if the father of an adult child whom he had not supported had died intestate by wrongful death, § 15-51-40 would not bar or limit the father’s right to the wrongful death settlement proceeds as long as he could show that, during the child’s minority, he had no knowledge he was the father.

We hold § 15-51-40’s final phrase, “did not otherwise provide for the needs of the decedent during his or her minority,” means what it says, and contains no exception excusing compliance, including lack of knowledge of paternity.

Because evidence supports the probate court’s finding that defendant did not provide for his daughter’s needs during her life, however brief, we agree with the probate court’s ruling as to the second element of § 15-51-40.


Murphy v. Collins (In re Fields) (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-078-18, 10 pp.) (D. Garrison Hill, J.) Appealed from Greenville County (Debora Faulkner, Probate Court Judge & Perry Gravely, Circuit Court Judge) Charles Marchbanks Jr. for Appellant; Jessica Ann Salvini and John Magruder Read IV for Respondent. S.C. App.


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