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Damages in South Carolina Personal Injury Cases: Punitive Damages

If you’ve been seriously injured, you may be able to recover punitive damages along with compensatory damages. We discussed compensatory damages in our last post.

Again, we’ll have to repeat our DISCLAIMER: You probably already know this, but you can’t become DuRant & DuRant, P.A.’s client by reading anything (including a blog). This blog doesn’t constitute legal advice. Every situation is different. If you want legal advice about your unique issues, contact a lawyer.

What are punitive damages?

According to the South Carolina Supreme Court:

[P]unitive damages, in addition to punishing the defendant and deterring similar conduct by the defendant and others, serve to vindicate the private rights of the plaintiff and they provide some measure of compensation to plaintiffs for the intentional violation of those rights that is separate and distinct from the usual measure of compensatory damages.

O’Neill v. Smith, 388 S.C. 246 (S.C. 2010).

Punitive damages have played an important role in the South Carolina judicial system since at least 1784. (For comparison’s sake, the United States Bill of Rights wasn’t ratified until 1791).

Punitive damage awards in South Carolina.

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“[P]revious instances of what could be seen as carelessness” can provide evidence for a punitive-damages award.

Johnson v. Sam English Grading, 412 S.C. 433, 772 S.E.2d 544 (S.C. Ct. App. 2015)

Almost 200 years later, the legislature passed a punitive-damages statute. We’ll hit the highlights. Under South Carolina law:

  • You must plead punitive damages to get them.

    • (Sidebar, S.C. Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a): “claims for punitive . . . damages shall be in general terms only and not for a stated sum.”)

  • There can be a different burden of proof. Punitive damages may be awarded if the plaintiff shows “by clear and convincing evidence that his harm was the result of the defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.”

  • The jury can consider all relevant evidence when making a punitive-damages award, including:

    • The defendant’s degree of culpability

    • The severity of the harm caused by the defendant

    • The extent to which the plaintiff’s own conduct contributed to the harm;

    • The duration of the conduct, the defendant’s awareness, and any concealment by the defendant;

    • The existence of past similar conduct;

    • The profitability of the conduct to the defendant;

    • The defendant’s ability to pay;

    • The likelihood the award will deter the defendant or others from similar conduct;

    • Punitive damage awards in any other case alleging harm from the same act or course of conduct; and

    • Any criminal penalties or civil fines imposed on the defendant.

  • There are caps on punitive damages (but even then, there are exceptions to those caps)

    • Normally you can’t receive more than three times your compensatory damages, with a 500,000 maximum.

    • If the Court finds that the defendant’s conduct was motivated by unreasonable financial gain that was approved by high-ranking officers or if the defendant’s actions were felonious, then you can get four times your compensatory damages with a $1 million cap.

    • If the Court finds that the defendant had the intent to harm you, that the defendant pleaded guilty to a crime arising out the conduct harming you, or the defendant harmed you while substantially impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there is no cap.

If you’ve been seriously injured in South Carolina, you should discuss your potential recoverable damages with your attorney. Contact the attorneys at DuRant & DuRant, P.A. to set up a consultation to discuss your case.