Statutes of limitations set the length of time that a plaintiff, prosecutor, or government agency has to bring a lawsuit or charges against a defendant. After that period, a suit is time-barred; “the statute has run.”
In South Carolina, a plaintiff has three years to file a claim against another person or corporation for personal injury or property damage. This covers many common causes of action, such as:
- Auto accidents
- Attacks by dogs
- Slipping and falling
- Injuries due to defective drugs or other products
- Workplace accidents that are not eligible for workers’ compensation
The statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff “knew or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known” that they had a cause of action. See S.C. Code § 15-3-535. Note, however, that this is not the case for the statutory period for wrongful death, which begins on the date of death.
Often the cause of action is obvious, as with an auto accident, but it cannot always be detected so easily. For example, a patient may take months or years to discover that incorrect medical treatment injured them. Therefore, for a medical malpractice claim, the statute can begin to run when the patient discovers the injury rather than on the date of the doctor’s treatment. However, state law only allows an extra three years for the patient to discover this injury. This limits the period to a total of six years maximum after the treatment that caused it. If the patient finds that the doctor or surgeon left an instrument inside their body—a shocking but well-known occurrence—the patient has two years from the date of its discovery to bring their suit. This, too, is subject to “when it reasonably ought to have been discovered.”
Tolling: Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
Certain circumstances will delay or pause the running of the statute of limitations. This is called “tolling.” In South Carolina, the statute is tolled when a plaintiff is, at the time of their cause of action:
- Under 18 years of age, or
- “Insane”—that is, not mentally competent
A minor with a claim must bring suit within one year of their 18th birthday. However, if they have a particular type of claim, the law differs.
For a minor with a medical malpractice claim, the statute is only tolled for a maximum of seven years. Therefore, when a small child is injured by medical or dental treatment, their parent or guardian is responsible for filing the claim on their behalf. Otherwise, the statute will have run by the time the child turns 18. As an adult, the plaintiff can challenge this in court if they can show that their guardian failed to file suit due to fraud or collusion with the health care provider. See S.C. Code § 15-3-545.
In the case of injuries arising from sexual abuse or incest, the plaintiff may file suit—
- Within six years after turning twenty-one years old; or
- Within three years after discovering the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse
—Whichever occurs later. See S.C. Code § 15-3-555.
A legally incompetent person may file within a year of their recovery, up to a maximum of five years after the cause of action. Alternatively, a conservator or guardian can bring suit on their behalf.
The statute of limitations is also tolled if the prospective defendant moves out of South Carolina, pausing when they leave and resuming when they return. In other words, the defendant cannot lay low outside the jurisdiction until the statute runs.
Claims against the Federal and State Government
Today, a plaintiff may make certain personal injury claims against the government just as they would against other parties. For example, a government employee may get into an auto accident while on the job, or a visitor to a courthouse may slip and fall in the building. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) sets out the procedures and the statutes of limitations for filing personal injury claims against the government. South Carolina has also passed a Tort Claims Act, as have many of the other states.
Under the FTCA, a plaintiff must file a claim within two years and within six months of the mailing of a final denial of the claim from a federal agency. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act provides a similar filing period—two years, or three years if an agency denies a claim submitted outside of court in the meantime. See S.C. Code § 15-78-100.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
Worker’s Compensation claims must generally be reported to the employer within one year of the date of the injury. There are certain exceptions that may give you additional time, but in general it is very important to promptly notify your employer of an injury to avoid delays in treatment and potential prejudice to your claim.
Some other entities, such as charitable organizations or hospitals, may also be subject to shorter statute of limitations periods. As a result, it is very important to discuss any potential case with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to make sure you do not miss the time to file.
How to Get Started
If you have a personal injury claim in South Carolina or you think that you might, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Although three years may seem like a long time, insurance claims and negotiations can move very slowly. The faster you act, the easier it will be to find evidence that your attorney will need, such as witnesses with fresh memories and digital recordings that may otherwise get wiped or discarded.
At Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC, we work hard to maximize your recovery and get you the help that you need. For a free in-depth consultation, contact our offices at 803-888-2200 or visit our website at www.ctlawsc.com