In most South Carolina accidents, there are a few different types of damages victims can receive: special damages, general damages, and punitive damages. Special damages, also known as compensatory or actual damages, cover damages such as past and future hospital and medical bills, rehabilitation and therapy costs, lost wages, lost ability to earn income in the future, car rental costs, and more.
General damages, also known as non-economic losses, are more subjective and include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.
Lastly, punitive damages (sometimes referred to as exemplary damages) are unique in that they are not directly tied to the economic loss suffered by the injured party, but rather to the conduct of the person(s) at-fault for the accident, also known as the defendant(s). Punitive damages discipline the defendant for reckless or illegal behavior/actions.
Is there a limit to punitive damages in South Carolina?
Yes, most South Carolina accidents have a punitive damage limit of the greater of 3x the actual damages or an inflation adjusted hard cap, which is $677,065 in 2023. What does this mean? Let me explain.
If your actual damages are equal to or less than $225,688.33, then you can qualify for up to $677,065.
On the other hand, if your actual damages are more than that, you can qualify for 3x the amount. So, if you’re up to $300,000 in actual damages, you can qualify for up to $900,000 in punitive damages under the basic punitive damages rules.
There are a number of exceptions to this general rule that can cause the punitive damages caps to increase, but several major exceptions that are worth mentioning include the following. In South Carolina:
- If the accident involved alcohol, drugs or crime, there is no limit on the punitive damages.
- If the defendant’s actions were motivated by financial reasons, the cap increases to 4x the actual damages.
- If the defendant is a government office, punitive damages are unavailable.
- If the defendant is a charity, punitive damages are unavailable.
Who determines punitive damage awards?
Punitive damages are handled in trial. First, the jury determines who is liable for paying the actual damages and how much will be awarded. If the jury finds the other parties are at-fault and liable for damages, then it moves into the next stage, where the jury determines if the defendant is liable for punitive damages, and if so, the amount. After the jury renders its decision, the judge will apply any applicable caps or other adjustments to arrive at the ultimate punitive damages number.
What factors determine the amount of punitive damages awarded?
There are a few things to keep in mind here. 1) The jury is not informed of the limit. 2) The jury will use the evidence of the case to determine the amount awarded.
They will consider many factors, including:
- The percentage of fault for the plaintiff (you) and defendant (those at-fault)
- The defendant’s history of reckless conduct
- Severity of the harm
- Whether the defendant attempted to conceal the danger
- The defendant’s wealth and whether the amount will impact their future decisions
- The likelihood that the award will discourage other people/companies from engaging in the same conduct in the future
An experienced team of personal injury attorneys will work together and use all available resources to build the strongest case for you. You cannot go up against companies and other legal teams on your own. We’re here to help.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident, and you think you may qualify for compensation including punitive damages, contact our award-winning legal team today at (803) 888-2200 or complete our secure online form and we will get in touch with you.
What types of cases qualify for punitive damages?
One case type our team commonly represents that qualifies for punitive damages are DUI accidents. When an intoxicated driver gets behind the wheel, he is undeniably putting others at risk.
Another common case type involving punitive damages we frequently handle is truck accidents. Far too often, these companies intentionally alter important documents and information, such as how many hours the drivers worked. This certainly puts drivers and others on the road at risk, as there are regulations in place to ensure even the most experienced truck drivers are not overworked and driving exhausted for a reason.
Other examples include when a company knows they have a dangerous product, and hides this information to get it on the market anyways.
Contact an experienced attorney for more information.
Whether or not an accident victim qualifies for punitive damage awards and how much in South Carolina is very dependent on the specifics of the case. To fully evaluate your case and the available categories of compensation, you should have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to build a very strong case with clear evidence that the other party made a reckless, willful decision causing harm. Cavanaugh & Thickens is currently accepting new clients. To discuss the specifics of your case and see what you may qualify for or how an attorney can help, call our team today at (803) 888-2200. We are available for you 24/7.