Understanding Punitive Damages in South Carolina
As a general rule, a personal injury settlement or personal injury verdict is meant to be compensatory in nature. In other words, if you suffered $10,000 in damages in an accident, you are usually entitled to recover $10,000 in compensation through a personal injury claim. That being said, there is a very important exception to this rule: punitive damages.
Although they are awarded to the victim, punitive damages are meant to punish the bad actions of the defendant and to deter others from engaging in any type of similar conduct in the future. In this article, our top-rated Greenville, SC personal injury attorney discusses the most important things that you need to know about punitive damages in South Carolina.
What are Punitive Damages?
Also referred to as exemplary damages, punitive damages are primarily about punishing wrong, malicious, and/or egregiously harmful conduct. While they serve a wider purpose, these damages are still awarded to the plaintiff of the case.
As explained by the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute punitive damages are granted on top of an injured victim’s ‘actual’ damages. In other words, plaintiffs are not prevented from recovering full and fair financial compensation for their economic and noneconomic losses if they seek punitive damages.
When are Punitive Damages Awarded in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, punitive damages can be awarded only if a plaintiff proves through “clear and convincing evidence” that the harm they suffered was the result of “willful, wanton, or reckless conduct” by the defendant. Of course, this is a relatively vague standard. In practice, it means that courts are generally skeptical of awarding punitive damages. Indeed, these damages are not offered in the majority of personal injury claims.
However, if the defendant’s behavior that caused your accident was grossly negligent or extremely reckless, you should speak to a Greenville, SC personal injury lawyer about the possibility of recovering punitive compensation. For instance, if you were injured in a crash with a highly intoxicated driver who blew through a red light, punitive damages may be available.
As another example, if you were injured by a defective product that the corporation had full knowledge was unreasonably dangerous even though they kept selling it, punitive damages may be appropriate. Ultimately, questions about punitive damages must always be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
South Carolina has Statutory Limits on Punitive Damages
Under the South Carolina Noneconomic Damage Awards Act of 2005, punitive damages are subject to certain statutory limitations. This is a complicated issue because there are actually some key exceptions to the statutory cap.
As a starting point, the maximum punitive damages that can be awarded in South Carolina is three times the amount of the personal injury award or $500,000, whichever is greater.
However, that statutory cap will increase to four times the amount of the personal injury award or $2 million, whichever is greater, if the defendant’s wrongful actions constitute a felony or if the wrongful actions in question were especially egregious and were motivated by financial gain.
Finally, the statutory limits on punitive damages can be waived entirely in cases where the defendant was convicted of a felony, the defendant intentionally harmed the injured victim, or the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
How Our Greenville, SC Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Recovering punitive compensation is deeply challenging. As these damages, by definition, are not tied to a specific loss, it can be difficult to put a specific dollar figure on the proper value of punitive damages.
Insurance companies and large corporations will often try to take advantage of this inherent ambiguity in order to push their own financial interests. Indeed, insurers are especially aggressive in defending personal injury claims that involve the possibility of punitive damages.
We are here to help. Our Greenville, SC personal injury attorney has the experience and tenacity needed to hold defendants and their insurance carriers accountable. Our legal team knows the tactics used by insurers and we are prepared to build a strong case to ensure that our clients are able to recover the maximum available financial compensation — including all appropriate punitive damages.
Contact Our South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer Today
At the Peace Law Firm, our Greenville personal injury attorney fights aggressively to protect the rights of injured victims. If you have questions about punitive damages, we are here to help. To schedule a free consultation, please contact us today. With a law office in Greenville, we handle personal injury cases throughout the state of South Carolina.