In the US, the legal aftermath of an auto accident is most often handled under the law of the state where it occurred. Twelve of the fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia, have established a “no-fault” system for auto accident damages. In a no-fault system, each driver applies to their own insurance company for reimbursement. There is generally no need to establish which driver caused the accident—unless the damages exceed a certain limit set by the law. One downside to the no-fault system is that the claimant may be unable to fully recover for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.
South Carolina is an “at-fault” state when it comes to personal injury liability coverage. As such, auto accidents are subject to essentially the same laws as other personal injury cases and require the party claiming an injury to prove the other driver’s responsibility for the wreck. If you have been in a South Carolina auto accident, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages from the other driver, but you must prove that they breached their duty to exercise due care while operating a motor vehicle, thus causing your damages. Additionally, in some cases, you can recover a portion of your damages if you are deemed to share some partial responsibility for the accident.
Law and Recovery in South Carolina Accidents
Under state law, if you are no more at fault than the other party in an auto accident, you can recover compensation for your injuries, or “damages”, from them. This is sometimes called a “51% rule” because a driver less than 51% at fault can recover. You would, however, have to accept a damages award reduced by any fault you had in the accident. For example, if a jury found that you were 10% at fault and you had $10,000 worth of damages, you would only recover $9,000. This type of law is called “modified comparative negligence.”
In practice, most auto accidents are settled through insurance claims. After an accident, a driver can make a claim against the other driver’s liability insurance for medical expenses or property damage. South Carolina requires its drivers to carry liability insurance with minimum coverage that would pay at least the following for a single accident:
- $25,000 for bodily injury to one person
- $50,000 for bodily injury to all persons
- $25,000 for property damage
However, a severe accident can easily produce damages exceeding these totals when adding up medical expenses and non-economic harm like pain and suffering. In theory, if an injured party obtains a judgment for their damages, the driver would still be personally liable for the amount that insurance did not pay, but most individuals cannot cover such costs. That is why we encourage everyone to purchase as much under-insured motorist (UIM) coverage as you can under your own auto insurance policy, as practically speaking UIM is usually the only way to recover for damages in excess of the other driver’s policy limits.
The Role of Insurance Companies
Liability insurance policies evaluate cases and pay claims based on the law of modified comparative negligence in South Carolina. A claimant—that is, the driver making a claim on the other driver’s policy—can only receive damages if they were not more responsible for the accident than the other party was. However, insurance companies can not make legal determinations regarding fault; their determinations are really only the opinion of an adjuster or attorney hired by the insurance company to minimize their payments for injury claims.
Insurance companies have every incentive to stack the deck by asserting comparative fault where there was none. Insurance companies do not want to lose money on payouts, and they will avoid paying every dollar that they can.
This is how an experienced personal injury attorney can help. Our attorneys understand how to investigate a car accident, review the evidence, and build the strongest possible claim on your behalf to get you the entirety of what you’re owed, allowing you to recoup your damages for:
- Medical expenses, including travel for treatment
- Lost wages and/or earning opportunities
- Alternative transportation
- Lost property, including items destroyed in the accident
- Emotional distress (pain and suffering)
Attorneys can help protect you from undue pressure and misleading tactics while you are recovering from the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of a car wreck. They also know how to determine how much more you may be able to recover than the insurance company may want you to believe. Most importantly, they can get results. One study from the Insurance Research Council found that claimants who were represented by attorneys recovered settlements over 3.5 times larger on average, compared to claimants without attorneys.
If you have been involved in a South Carolina car accident or a truck accident, or if a car struck you while you were walking or biking, we would be happy to talk with you. Our personal injury lawyers handle auto and pedestrian accidents every day. To schedule a free initial case evaluation in our Charleston or Columbia offices, call us at (803) 888-2200 today.