Understanding the Laws on Punitive Damages in South Carolina Personal Injury Claims

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Are you wondering if your personal injury claim warrants an award of punitive damages? To answer this question, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the laws regarding punitive damages in South Carolina personal injury claims, which is what we’re going to discuss in this post. To begin with, there were some significant changes made to these laws in January of 2012, as defined in S.C. Code § 15-32-510. So, if you’re making assumptions based on someone else’s experience (which is never really a good idea), you should keep in mind that things have changed over the years, notably those aforementioned changes in 2012.
One of the changes that was made involved the need for the plaintiff to specifically request punitive damages in order to be considered for receiving them. This doesn’t mean that you have to name a specific amount (though you can), but it does mean that you can’t be awarded any punitive damages at all, even if the case goes to trial, if you don’t ask for them in your initial complaint against the defendant (the liable party in your personal injury claim).
Now, if you do specifically request punitive damages from the defendant, then the defendant will have the right to request two verdicts. One verdict, in such a situation, would be specifically for the actual compensatory damages; and the other verdict would be specifically for the requested punitive damages. In legalese, this is referred to a bifurcated trial and that sort of trial is handled in two separate stages. The first stage is aligned with the first verdict, addressing the actual compensatory damages and/or nominal damages. The second stage will only be relevant if those sought out compensatory and/or nominal damages are awarded, and it will address the second verdict, which will be whether or not punitive damages are warranted and how much they ought to be if they are. Keep in mind that punitive damages are only appropriate in cases where the defendant deserves punishment for egregious negligence or willful misconduct.

How Does a Jury Determine the Value of Punitive Damages?

There is no single, simple answer to the question of how a jury determines the value of punitive damages when they are warranted. Rather, there are many things to keep in mind to understand how the jury might ultimately reach their conclusion.
There are caps on punitive damages in SC. In most cases, punitive damages cannot exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000 (the greater of the two). Yet, there are exceptions to this rule. The cap on punitive damages can be as much as four times the amount of compensatory damages or as much as two million dollars (the greater of the two) if any of the following exceptions apply in your particular claim:

  • If the wrongful actions of the defendant were motivated by financial gain and were unreasonably and knowingly hazardous with elevated probability of injury occurring.
  • If the wrongful actions of the defendant could constitute a felony.

There are still further exceptions, making things even more confusing to average plaintiff in South Carolina personal injury claims. In some cases, there is no cap on punitive damages at all. The cap is waived in the following circumstances:

  • If the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff.
  • If the defendant was convicted of a felony due to their wrongful actions.
  • If the defendant was under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol at the time.

To summarize, what this means for you as the plaintiff is that it is not as difficult as you might think to receive fair punitive damages in South Carolina personal injury claims, where warranted; and in a lot of cases, there is no cap on the punitive damages that you can receive. If the defendant intentionally harmed you, was intoxicated at the time of the incident, or was guilty of a felony, then there will be no cap on the punitive damages that you can receive.
It is important to remember that you cannot make valid assumptions about your own personal injury claim based on the circumstances and outcome of somebody else’s. No matter how many stories you read about or hear from others, you won’t be able to effectively evaluate your own claim without speaking to a skilled South Carolina personal injury attorney. So call David R. Price, Jr. P.A. for a free consultation to learn more about how South Carolina laws will impact your own personal injury claim and what you might be able to receive in punitive damages.

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