Personal Injury Laws and Statutory Time Requirements in South Carolina
By: Walter Harris, Esquire
Time Limits on Personal Injury Lawsuits in South Carolina
All states set statutory limits on how much time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after you have suffered some type of harm. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of case you want to file, but in general this kind of law is called astatute of limitations.
In South Carolina, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives you three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. You’ll find this law codified atS.C. Code Ann. section 15-3-530.
It’s important to understand and follow South Carolina’s statute of limitations on personal injury cases. If you don’t get your lawsuit filed before the three-year window closes, the state’s civil court system will likely refuse to hear your case at all.
South Carolina Shared Fault Rules
In some personal injury cases, the person you are filing a claim against argues that you are actually to blame (at least partially) for the incident that led to your injuries. If it turns out that you do share some degree of legal liability, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you can receive from any other at-fault parties.
In shared fault injury cases, South Carolina follows a “modified comparative negligence rule.” Under this rule, the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of fault. But if you’re found to bear more than 50 percent of the legal blame, you can’t collect anything at all from other at-fault parties.
Here is an example. You are rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your brake lights is out. During a civil trial, the jury decides that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 80 percent to blame. Your damages (including medical bills and lost income) add up to $10,000. Under South Carolina's modified comparative negligence rule, your damages will be reduced to $8,000 (or the $10,000 total minus the $2,000 that represents your share of fault for the accident.)
South Carolina courts are obligated to follow this rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial, and don't be surprised if the other side’s insurance adjuster raises the issue of South Carolina’s comparative negligence in settlement talks.
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a"one bite" rule. In South Carolina however, a specific statute (S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110) makes the owner &"strictly liable";, meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
"Whenever any person is bitten or otherwise attacked by a dog while the person is in a public place or is lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping, the owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping is liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked."
Caps on Injury Damages in South Carolina
Some states place limits on the types of damages that an injured person can be awarded after a successful personal injury trial.
In South Carolina, in most medical malpractice cases, non-economic damages (such as those meant to compensate for pain and suffering) are limited to $350,000 per defendant, and $1.05 million overall (even if there are more than three defendants. Remember, these caps do not apply to all personal injury cases across the board, only those stemming from medical malpractice.
Another South Carolina damage cap law that does apply to all injury cases is one that covers punitive damages, which is compensation that is awarded to an injured plaintiff but is intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious or outrageous behavior. In South Carolina, punitive damages in injury cases are limited to the greater of three times actual damages, or $500,000.