Judge reverses severance order in Mallory Beach wrongful death lawsuit

A Hampton County judge reversed his earlier decision to hold separate trials in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 2:50 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2022 at 10:14 PM EDT
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HAMPTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The wrongful death lawsuit for Mallory Beach will go to trial next January with all defendants present, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Contradicting his original order, Judge Daniel Hall reversed his decision to allow Parker’s Corporation to have its portion of the lawsuit tried separately.

Mallory Beach was 19 when she died in a 2019 boat crash in which an underage Paul Murdaugh was allegedly driving under the influence. The Beach family filed a lawsuit against Murdaugh’s father, former attorney Alex Murdaugh, and Parker’s Corporation, the owners of the store they claimed he bought alcohol three years ago.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Alex Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and their son, Paul, were shot to death on the family’s rural Colleton County property. The investigation into the deaths would lead to dozens of indictments against Murdaugh and others accused in financial fraud schemes. Murdaugh himself was indicted on two counts of murder in his wife’s and son’s deaths in July.

Earlier this month, Hall granted a motion from attorneys representing Parker’s Corporation to separate the cases to avoid prejudice against their client as the news about the Murdaugh family gained international attention after the wrongful death lawsuit was filed.

Hall initially agreed, writing, “The recent criminal indictments and civil lawsuits surrounding the Murdaugh family involve potentially the most reactionary and publicized proceedings in the history of South Carolina judiciary system, none of which is due to any conduct of Parker’s.”

“A trial court’s decision to order separate trials is discretionary and may not be disturbed on appeal unless the trial court abused its discretion,” Hall also wrote in the initial ruling.

But representatives for the Beach family asked the court to reconsider the severance, relying on 200 years of case law to make their point that the order was unnecessary.

Hall reversed his ruling, writing, “[u]pon further review of South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, applicable case law, briefs of parties and oral arguments, Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration is granted.”

Attorney P.K. Shere, who represents Parker’s Corporation, sent the following statement in reaction to the judge’s ruling:

We are obviously disappointed that Judge Hall has reversed his decision. We are looking into options, but, ultimately, we look forward to presenting our case at trial and exonerating Tajeeha Cohen and Parker’s.

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 9, 2023, in Hampton County.