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Does South Carolina Allow You to Sue for Punitive Damages?

Sometimes, a defendant’s negligence is so severe that victims can recover additional damages outside of compensation for their losses in South Carolina.

If you were the victim of gross negligence in South Carolina, you can sue for punitive damages. To get them, you must first request them in your initial complaint. Then, you must prove that the defendant was willful, wanton, or reckless when causing your injuries. To do this, you will need evidence like photographs, witness statements, and security camera footage. Punitive damages are only awarded at trial in South Carolina. When calculating punitive damages, juries will consider several factors, such as the severity of conduct demonstrated by the defendant and its impact on a victim. Punitive damages are capped at three times the amount of awarded compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever amount is greater.

To get a free case review from the Columbia, SC personal injury attorneys of Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers, call us now at (803) 451-4000.

When Can You Sue for Punitive Damages in South Carolina?

South Carolina allows victims to recover punitive damages in certain instances. Punitive damages will not be available if your case does not involve gross negligence.

Punitive damages differ from compensatory damages in that they are not used to make a victim whole again after an accident. Instead, they are used to punish defendants for their wanton, willful, or reckless conduct. So, if an at-fault party went past the point of ordinary negligence and was grossly negligent in causing your injuries, you might be able to recover punitive damages.

Our South Carolina personal injury attorneys will carefully review your case to determine if punitive damages are possible for you. According to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-32-510(a), to recover punitive damages from a judge or jury, you must request them in your initial complaint. The judge or jury will decide the actual amount awarded in your case. Punitive damages will only be available if you take your injury claim to court in South Carolina.

What Types of Accidents Can Result in Punitive Damages in South Carolina?

Incidents involving gross negligence can result in victims recovering punitive damages in South Carolina. Reviewing some common examples of gross negligence can help victims confirm whether or not such compensation will be available to them in their claims.

Drunk driving is one of the most common examples of gross negligence in South Carolina. Getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is extremely reckless. Such substances can seriously lower one’s reaction time. Drunk drivers might not be able to stay within their lanes or slow down when approaching another vehicle. Drunk driving accidents are often catastrophic, leading to life-altering injuries and possibly death. Because of the severe breach of the drunk driver’s duty of care, punitive damages may be available in these types of cases.

In other instances, judges and juries award punitive damages to make an example out of a defendant and deter others from engaging in similar activity. Because of this, punitive damages are awarded against negligent institutions, product manufacturers, medical professionals, or companies that act without care or concern for those they injure.

What Evidence Do You Need to Recover Punitive Damages in South Carolina?

In order to recover punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant acted with gross negligence. This will require evidence.

If you wish to recover punitive damages in your case, you must go beyond proving that the defendant is liable for your injuries. Instead, you must prove that the defendant failed to exercise care and acted with willful, wanton, or reckless conduct, according to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-32-520(d). For example, suppose the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. In that case, a blood alcohol test, statements from police officers, and statements from eyewitnesses can help you prove as much.

Other evidence, such as surveillance footage and incident reports, can also help victims establish gross negligence.

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated in South Carolina?

Judges and juries in South Carolina calculate punitive damages. While the amount awarded to a victim is largely left up to them, there are rules they must follow.

Judges and juries will look to several factors when calculating punitive damages. For example, could the accident have been easily avoided had the defendant exercised care? In the example of the drunk driving accident, the incident may not have taken place had the defendant been sober.

Other factors, such as whether the defendant has acted similarly in the past or profited or benefited in any way from their negligent act, may be weighed when calculating punitive damages. Judges and juries will also likely consider the degree of harm experienced by the victim. All factors considered when awarding punitive damages are laid out in S.C. Code Ann. § 15-32-520(e).

It is important to craft a clear, compelling case against a defendant so that the jury in your case has all the necessary facts to consider punitive damages. Because punitive damages are harder to recover than compensatory damages, gathering evidence of gross negligence immediately after an accident is of the utmost importance. Our lawyers can reference other cases with similar facts to help estimate the punitive damages you could recover.

Punitive damages are limited in South Carolina. According to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-32-530(a), victims can recover three times the actual damages awarded or $500,000 in punitive damages, whichever amount is greater. So, if you were awarded $200,000 in actual damages, the cap on punitive damages in your case would be $600,000. There is no limit on the minimum punitive damages victims can recover in South Carolina.

Call Our Attorneys About Your Injury Case in South Carolina

Call Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers at (803) 451-4000 to get a free case review from our Orangeburg, SC personal injury attorneys.