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Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit in South Carolina

Statutes of limitations are laws put in place to make sure that claims are filed in a reasonable time after an injury case. With a statute of limitations in place, the claim will expire if it isn’t filed soon enough, meaning you lose your right to recover damages. With car accidents, it is important to understand how long you have to file and what rules and restrictions are placed on your ability to file during and after that standard time period.

Generally, South Carolina law gives victims of car accidents three years to file an injury case. This means that most car accident lawsuits will need to be filed within three years of the date of the crash, but there are some exceptions under the law. For example, if the victim is a minor or has an intellectual disability, the date can be extended. Failing to file on time usually means losing your case entirely.

For help with your case, call our South Carolina car accident lawyers today at Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers by dialing (803) 451-4000.

Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in South Carolina

Under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-530(5), victims have 3 years from the date of the accident to file their injury claim. This means that if the case is not filed in court before 3 years have passed, the case will be thrown out. More specifically, the defendant can use the statute of limitations as a defense by saying that it essentially doesn’t matter if your claim is true because it was filed too late, and they can move for dismissal. The court can also dismiss a case on its own (known in legal terms as “sua sponte”) if the case is filed too late.

Why Do We Have a Statute of Limitations on Car Accident Cases in South Carolina?

If you were injured and need compensation, that fact does not change after a year or 5 years. So why, then, do we cut off cases at 3 years?

Generally, it comes down to fairness. It isn’t particularly fair if someone can wait around for years threatening to file a lawsuit but never actually does. It also isn’t very fair if they say their injuries are severe but then don’t act to get their injuries redressed or get the money they need to pay for such expensive medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering in a timely manner.

At the same time, 3 years is a bit longer than other states, so South Carolina’s rule is a bit friendlier to plaintiffs than other states’ rules.

Statutes of limitations also help ensure that evidence and witnesses’ memories of what happened remain fresh. Trying to adjudicate a case that happened decades ago is going to be difficult – and potentially unfair – because records might be lost, or evidence might be destroyed. Witnesses will likely have forgotten what happened if they were not encouraged to remember the crash, give statements, and prepare to testify at trial. Even if they did give statements, they might be relying more on their statements than their actual memory if the case is filed years and years after the accident.

As such, filing a case sooner rather than later helps our Orangeburg, SC car accident lawyers make sure that we have fresh, strong evidence to use in your case. The case will be even stronger with a more confident recitation of the facts, fresh evidence, and good witness recollection of what happened.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in South Carolina Car Accident Cases

Since the foundational principle behind the statute of limitations is fairness, it makes sense that there are exceptions. Sometimes, 3 years is a very tight deadline, or material circumstances get in the way of filing within 3 years. As such, 3 main exceptions let you extend your filing deadline:


Minors cannot file lawsuits on their own and usually have to do so with the help of a parent or guardian. A child injured in a car accident is not able to fully appreciate what happened to them, the legal circumstances surrounding the crash, or their right to file a lawsuit. Because of this, the law gives them until they turn 18 before they have to consider filing their case to recover compensation for their damages. Under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-40(1), minors have until 1 year after they turn 18 to file.

Other Disabilities

The law refers to “infancy” (i.e., being a minor) as a legal “disability.”  Suppose the victim of the accident was under the effects of another disability, such as legal “insanity” or an intellectual disability. In that case, they might similarly be unable to appreciate what happened to them and their right to sue. In the same way, they get extra time to file under § 15-3-40(2), but they only get a maximum of 5 additional years.

Defendant Out of State

The statute of limitations does not start running if the defendant is not in South Carolina when the accident happens. This is rare for car accident cases since the crash usually involves the defendant crashing into you on a roadway within the state. However, § 15-3-30 also allows the statute of limitations clock to be paused if the defendant permanently moves out of state for over a year. When they are absent from the state, the statute of limitations’ 3-year clock is paused.

South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers Offering Free Case Evaluations

If you were hurt in a car crash, call the Columbia, SC car accident lawyers at Burriss Ridgeway Injury Lawyers at (803) 451-4000 for a free case assessment.