Punitive Damages in South Carolina Personal Injury Cases

May 28, 2020
Punitive Damages in South Carolina Personal Injury Cases

If you were seriously hurt at the hands of another, you may be entitled to a punitive award in addition to the standard compensatory damages. Whereas the latter aims to make plaintiffs whole again, the former attempts to punish defendants and deter similar egregious conduct in the future.

In South Carolina, personal injury claimants may seek punitive damages if the liable party acted with ill will, malice, conscious indifference, or a reckless disregard for their rights, safety, or health. Punitive damages are capped (with a number of exceptions) at three times the actual damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

What Kinds of Evidence Will Be Necessary to Pursue Punitive Damages?

To secure a punitive award, you will have to demonstrate how the defendant’s behavior constituted grossly negligent, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. There are a number of ways you may be able to do this, including by presenting clear and convincing evidence that the liable party either acted with intent to cause harm or knew that his or her behavior had a high probability of causing harm but proceeded anyway.  

The strongest evidence will ultimately depend on the facts of the case but might include:

  • Police reports;
  • Eyewitness deposition;
  • Confessions from the liable party or parties;
  • Deposition from an accident reconstruction expert;
  • Video footage of the incident;
  • Cell phone records;
  • Toxicology reports; and
  • Photographs of the scene.

What Kinds of Scenarios Might Warrant Punitive Damages?

Most successful personal injury claims do not include a punitive award because they’re founded on negligence and not ill will, malice, conscious indifference, or reckless disregard. There are a few scenarios, though, in which punitive damages may be warranted.

For instance, victims of assault and battery are often able to seek punitive damages. Some car accident scenarios also call for punitive measures at times. If a motorist causes a wreck while drunk driving or drag racing, for example, the victims may be able to collect punitive damages.

How Do I Seek Punitive Damages?

In South Carolina, plaintiffs must specifically request punitive damages. If you don’t, the court won’t consider awarding them, even if your case warrants them.

Instead of filing a separate action, though, sometimes courts may require you to pursue what’s called a bifurcated trial. Under these circumstances, the court handles such cases in two separate stages.

The first stage corresponds with the first verdict, which will regard compensatory damages in your case. Then, as requested, the court will proceed with the second stage, which will regard the punitive award. Keep in mind, however, that if no compensatory damages are awarded during the first stage, there won’t be a second stage because you cannot collect punitive damages if you didn’t incur actual damages.  

Discuss Your Claim with a Personal Injury Lawyer in South Carolina

If your life has been changed because of another party’s conduct, contact Hodge & Langley Law Firm to determine the most strategic way to proceed. Our team of attorneys has over 50 years of combined experience in the legal field, and our results demonstrate our commitment to excellence in every case we handle. Call 864-585-3873 or use our Online Contact Form to set up a free consultation with a personal injury attorney in South Carolina .

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