Punitive Damages After a Rock Hill Car Accident

When a person is injured in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, they are generally entitled to compensatory damages like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In a limited number of cases, a jury could also award punitive damages. Punitive damages are considered a form of punishment for defendants who caused injuries through especially reckless misconduct, with hopes of discouraging others from behaving similarly.

If you suffered serious injuries or your loved one was killed in a car accident caused by another party’s egregious negligence in Rock Hill, you may be eligible for punitive damages. Rock Hill places important restrictions on punitive damages. An experienced Rock Hill car attorney will know how to help you seek them.

Schiller & Hamilton has office locations in Rock Hill, Beaufort, Lancaster, and Buffton. To discuss your case with an experienced member of our team, call us or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

When Are Punitive Damages Available for a Car Accident?

Punitive damages are rarely awarded, but they can be more commonly associated with certain kinds of car accident claims. Drunk driving accidents are one of the types of cases where punitive damages are more common.

When a person is convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, more commonly known as driving under the influence (DUI), a higher breath or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can usually lead to a greater presumption of recklessness. Other DUI cases involving BACs that are only slightly over the legal limit may be less likely to result in punitive damages.

Other types of reckless driving can also lead to punitive damages. A driver who causes an accident because they were driving the wrong way, traveling much faster than the posted speed limit, or simply operating a known unsafe motor vehicle could also possibly lead to punitive damages.

Punitive damages may also be available in certain automotive defect cases where a company put profits ahead of safety.

Who Pays Punitive Damages for a Rock Hill Car Accident?

The defendant in a civil action is liable for a punitive damage award, but keep in mind that the defendant could very well file an appeal.

A final order or decision from the Court of Common Pleas in a civil case can be appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate level appellate court. An appeal in a civil case needs to be filed within 30 days of the receipt of an order.

A decision of the South Carolina Court of Appeals can be appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court. It can be very difficult for the Supreme Court to agree to hear an appeal of a civil matter.

In some cases, the defendants may simply write a check as soon as a trial has concluded. People should not be surprised when a defendant attempts to appeal the verdict though. This is especially likely because most insurance companies refuse to provide coverage for punitive damages. This means that most defendants will be asked to pay punitive damages out of pocket.

Determining Value of Punitive Damages After a Car Wreck in Rock Hill

Under South Carolina Code § 15-32-510, any claim for punitive damages needs to be included in a complaint, but a plaintiff cannot specify an amount of punitive damages they are seeking. South Carolina Code § 15-32-520 provides that actions tried before a jury involving punitive damages have to be conducted in a bifurcated manner before the same jury.

During the first stage of a bifurcated trial, a jury will determine liability for compensatory damages and the amount of compensatory damages. During this stage of the trial, evidence related only to punitive damages will not be admissible.

Punitive damages will be considered only when compensatory or nominal damages were awarded in the first stage of the trial. During the second stage of the bifurcated trial, the jury will determine if the defendant is liable for punitive damages and, if so, in what amount.

Under South Carolina Code § 15-32-520(E), a jury can consider all relevant evidence in determining the amount of punitive damages, including:

  • The defendant’s degree of culpability
  • The severity of the harm caused by the defendant
  • The defendant’s ability to pay
  • The existence of similar past conduct
  • The profitability of the conduct to the defendant
  • The duration of the conduct and the defendant’s awareness
  • Any concealment
  • Any civil fines assessed against a defendant
  • Any criminal penalties imposed on the defendant
  • Other punitive damages awarded against the defendant
  • The extent to which a plaintiff’s own conduct contributed to the harm
  • The likelihood that an award will deter the defendant or others from similar conduct

After punitive damages are awarded, a trial court will review the jury’s decision to make sure the award is not excessive or the result of passion or prejudice. Punitive damage awards are required to be specific to each defendant in actions with multiple defendants, and every defendant is only liable for the amount of the award made against them.

Limits on Punitive Damage Compensation in Rock Hill

South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(A) establishes that a punitive damages award is limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. The limitation must not be disclosed to the jury under South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(B).

When a jury does return a punitive damages verdict that exceeds the specified limit, the trial court must determine whether the wrongful conduct was motivated primarily by unreasonable financial gain and that the defendant was aware of how dangerous their actions were, or the defendant’s actions could subject them to a felony conviction.

When a trial court determines that either of those factors apply, punitive damages cannot be more than four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2 million. South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(C) provides that there is no limitation on punitive damages when a trial court determines that at the time of the injury, the defendant either pled guilty to or was convicted of a felony arising from the same course of action that caused the victim’s injuries, acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or had an intent to harm the victim.

How Schiller & Hamilton Can Help You Seek Punitive Damages for a Car Accident

Did you sustain severe injuries or was your loved one killed in a car accident caused by someone else’s reckless conduct in Rock Hill? Get help pursuing all of the compensation you are entitled to, including potential punitive damages.

Schiller & Hamilton has been fighting for clients for more than two decades. Call us or contact us online to receive a free consultation.