One of South Carolina’s most powerful families is withholding financial records and refusing to settle a civil case tied to a fatal Beaufort County boat crash, according to new documents filed in the case.
More than a year and a half after 19-year-old Mallory Beach died in a boat crash near Parris Island, the attorney representing her family filed a motion in the civil case pushing the family of suspected driver Paul Murdaugh to disclose their net worth and finances as the case gets closer to a possible jury trial.
The documents were filed two weeks after mediation efforts related to the case fell through.
Murdaugh, of Hampton, S.C., was indicted on three felony boating under the influence charges in the aftermath of the crash, but he has not been named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit.
So far …
Instead, the action blames a chain of convenience stores and members of Murdaugh’s influential family – including his father Richard Alexander (Alex) Murdaugh, and brother Richard Alexander (Buster) Murdaugh Jr. – for Beach’s wrongful death.
Mallory Beach’s mother Renee Beach is seeking damages from Parker’s #55 gas station – where the underage Paul Murdaugh allegedly purchased alcohol prior to the crash – as well as from Murdaugh’s brother and father, who facilitated Murdaugh’s drinking, according to the lawsuit.
In the motion filed Friday, Beach’s attorney Mark Tinsley asks the judge for an order requiring Richard Alexander Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. to fully respond to previous requests for financial documents, including:
- A list of checking, savings and 401( K) accounts
- A list of all investments
- Net worth statements
- Tax returns
Arguing that the interrogatory is too broad, the Murdaughs have refused to provide these documents after multiple requests from Beach’s attorney.
The Murdaugh family is an influential institution in the Lowcountry.
Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather all served as solicitors of the 14th judicial circuit from 1920-2006. In addition to their government jobs, the family has owned their well-known law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Elzroth & Detrick (PMPED) for more than 100 years in Hampton County.
Because of the Murdaugh family’s wealth and status, Beach’s lawsuit has been one of the highest-profile civil cases South Carolina has ever seen.
Another death settlement?
While the Murdaughs have released very little information in the discovery process, they did release some information about their insurance policies.
The Murdaughs have a $500,000 insurance policy for their boat, according to court documents accompanying Tinsley’s motion. In addition, they have two other insurance policies with Philadelphia Indemnity that cap out at $6 million.
In a separate lawsuit, Philadelphia Indemnity is suing Richard Alexander (Alex) Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. in federal court. The insurance company filed the suit last year formally denying coverage associated with the boat crash lawsuit.
Documents state that Philadelphia Indemnity is investigating whether or not the company has to cover Alex Murdaugh in the lawsuit.
Two other insurance companies – QBE Specialty and Homeowners of America – have denied Alex Murdaugh coverage in the lawsuit.
This request for insurance was the second time in less than two years that Alex Murdaugh has asked an insurance company to cover a death claim.
In December 2018, just a few months before the fatal boat crash, Alex Murdaugh settled a separate wrongful death claim.
In that case, a 57-year-old woman died after a trip and fall in Hampton County on February 26, 2018, according to a court documents (below). The documents do not say where the woman fell.
Alex Murdaugh was the only defendant listed in the settlement. In that case, Murdaugh’s insurance provider paid $500,000 for personal liability in a wrongful death and $5,000 for medical payment from the accident, according to court documents.
Corey Fleming, a longtime friend of the Murdaugh family, represented the woman’s family in the lawsuit.
Fleming’s law firm – where Alex Murdaugh previously worked – received $177,500 of the total sum from Murdaugh’s insurance company, according to the settlement.
Court documents did not specify why Alex Murdaugh was at fault in the woman’s 2018 death – which is completely separate from the Beach case.
Adding Paul Murdaugh
A few months ago, attorneys for Parkers’ – Mitchell Griffith, Kelly Dean and Paul Gibson – requested that the Beach case to be tried using the standards of maritime law.
S.C. circuit court judge Daniel DeWitt Hall has not ruled on that request yet, according to recent filings.
In court documents, Parker’s indicated it wished for a jury to be able to apportion fault to Paul Murdaugh without him being an actual defendant.
According to the filing, Mallory Beach’s fatal injuries were caused by other “tortfeasors” (a.k.a. people who committed wrongdoing) – individuals who were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Parkers’ attorneys agued that “at minimum” those other tortfeasors “must be included on the verdict form and the jury must apportion a percentage of fault to each.”
Who are the “tortfeasors” they are talking about?
(Click to view)
One obvious candidate would be Paul Murdaugh (above) – the only person who has been criminally charged in connection with Beach’s death.
Parker’s most recent filings – including depositions that depict Paul Murdaugh as a violent drunk on the night of the tragedy – appear to be intended to deflect the public’s attention away from Parker’s culpability.
In the explosive depositions, other boaters described Paul as an aggressive drunk who refused to allow anyone else to drive the boat that night – despite his increasing levels of intoxication. About an hour-and-a-half before the crash, Murdaugh was allegedly throwing chairs and trying to start a fight in a downtown Beaufort, S.C. bar.
(Click to view)
Furthermore, in the final moments leading up to the fatal crash, a “belligerent” Paul Murdaugh is said to have pushed, spit on, and slapped his then-girlfriend in the face, according to multiple depositions. Minutes later, the 17-foot center console fishing boat accelerated before slamming into a pylon near the Archer’s Creek bridge just north of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island in Beaufort County, S.C.
Upon impact, Mallory Beach was flung into the dark water of Archer’s Creek. Her body was found a week later – miles away from the crash site.
“Judicial Hell Hole”
Before the civil trial gets underway, Hall must also decide where the case will be heard.
Earlier this year, Parkers’ attorneys filed a motion to transfer venue to Beaufort County on the grounds it “would promote convenience of the witnesses and ends of justice.”
The Murdaughs’ attorneys and Beach’s attorney filed documents arguing that the trial should be held in Hampton County.
While accompanying affidavits offer geographic reasons as to why the trial should be moved, historical context provides insight for why Parkers’ would want to change the venue — and perhaps why this case has sparked so much interest.
A 2004 report by the American Tort Reform Foundation named Hampton County the No. 3 “Judicial Hell Hole” in the United States. While this report is dated, many of the problems referenced in the report still exist in Hampton County today and are relevant in the case.
For years, South Carolina law allowed plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits against businesses “virtually in any county in the state” – specifically wherever the corporate defendant does business or owns property.
Because of Hampton County’s longtime reputation of siding with plaintiffs and rewarding unusually high damages, many plaintiffs went to Hampton County to file their lawsuits, the report said.
In one year, more than 67 percent of the county’s lawsuits were filed by residents from other counties – and 41 percent of those cases involved incidents that did not occur in Hampton County, the report said.
According to the report, one law firm “brings a majority of the major suits in Hampton County” — PMPED, the Murdaugh’s firm.
The report also argued that this “litigation climate” hurt the economy in Hampton County by scaring away businesses. In the early 2000s, Walmart considered opening a store in Hampton County, but decided against it after “a lawyer reportedly warned company executives that locating a store there could place the retailer’s entire South Carolina operation at risk.
Still today, Hampton remains one of the few counties in South Carolina without a Walmart. It’s one of the poorest counties in the Palmetto State with a medium household income of $32,147 – not to mention a declining population.
There are three ongoing cases associated with the boat crash – Beach’s lawsuit, a federal lawsuit filed by an insurance company against the Murdaughs over claims from the civil suit, and the criminal case against Paul Murdaugh.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the criminal case. Columbia, S.C. attorney (and S.C. senator) Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – two of the most prominent criminal defense attorneys in the Palmetto State – are representing Murdaugh.
Robert Kittle, spokesperson for Alan Wilson’s office, told FITSNews that a trial date has not been set and the case is unlikely to happen anytime this year given the effective shutdown of the judicial branch of government in the Palmetto State since March.
Sources close to the case have told FITSNews it could take years before Murdaugh stands trial.
Editor’s Note: This article features a news analysis by Mandy Matney, who has been covering this case since February of 2019.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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