Most of the boating negligence cases our law firm has handled have been in the Midlands or along South Carolina's coast. This case, however, started in Anderson County during what should have been a routine training exercise. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee, Jess Fleming, was training two local sheriff's deputies on Lake Hartwell in the summer of 2017. On the second day of training, Mr. Fleming recklessly attempted a high-speed, hard left turn that threw him and the two deputies from the boat. To make it worse, Mr. Fleming did not have a safety lanyard attached to himself or a kill switch. This meant that when Mr. Fleming was thrown from the boat, the vessel kept going.
As Deputy "DH" was bobbing in the water with his life jacket, the unmanned boat struck him, ultimately resulting in his needless and untimely death.
The Wrongful Death Case
A little more than a month later, Deputy DH's widow contacted me wanting to know what could be done to hold the boat operator accountable beyond any criminal charges. We discussed what is known as survival and wrongful death claims, but more than anything we talked about who Deputy DH was as a person, a law enforcement officer, a father, and a husband. Before we can pursue a legal case, we have to know the human story. South Carolina law recognizes this fact in the context of "damages." Our job was to prove the impact of DH's passing on his widow and young children. It was incredibly sad, as they were a truly all-American family. We needed to demonstrate not only the economic loss caused by the boating accident but the emotional impact as well. Though it is hard to put a dollar figure on any death, the law requires that it be done; and what we know for certain is that life is valuable and any settlement for this type of father needed to be substantial.
Along with colleagues, Randy Hood and Shawn Deery, we sought to maximize the settlement value by hiring the right boating, medical, and economic experts. One of our expert witnesses was an early pioneer in the field of boat accident reconstruction, as well as a retired NASA engineer. These experts added value to the case and gave us the confidence to turn down multiple seven-figure settlement offers during the mediation process.
Eventually, the federal government's defense attorneys - who were remarkably professional and sympathetic - offered $3,950,000. Our client could have turned down the offer and opted for a jury trial, but she was exhausted with both the litigation process and having to relive the trauma through testimony. I am glad to say our law firm worked with multiple financial companies to ensure the settlement proceeds were properly invested and protected, especially for the children. While the money could not bring back DH, it has provided financial security for a young South Carolina family reeling from the consequences of this fatal accident.
My team and I put tremendous time and effort into getting to know families so that we may properly tell the human story. In this case, I am proud of the way in which we were able to give honor to DH's memory and care to his wonderful family. If you are reading this summary and have questions regarding boating negligence or any other type of wrongful death case in South Carolina, please know we are here to help. You will not see us in television ads, but if you become a client, you will certainly see us in person as we work to provide justice on behalf of you and your family.