South Carolina Personal Injury Laws & Liability Rules

A discussion of South Carolina's statute of limitations, the "modified comparative fault" rule, and other state laws that could affect your personal injury case.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

After any kind of injury caused by someone else's wrongful conduct in South Carolina, it's a good idea to have an understanding of the state laws that might affect any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit you might decide to bring. In this article, we'll look at the deadlines for filing an injury lawsuit in South Carolina's courts, the state's "shared fault" rules, and more.

What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in South Carolina?

All states set limits on how much time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after you've suffered some type of harm. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of case you want to file, but in general this kind of law is called a statute of limitations.

In South Carolina, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases gives you three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system. You'll find this law at S.C. Code of Laws section 15-3-530.

So, lawsuits over car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and most other injuries caused by someone else's negligence are subject to this three-year filing deadline. Some specific kinds of injury-related cases have their own separate statute of limitations deadline in South Carolina, including those over medical malpractice, defamation, and sexual abuse.

What Happens If I Miss the South Carolina Statute of Limitations?

It's important to understand and follow South Carolina's statute of limitations for personal injury cases because if you don't get your lawsuit filed before the three-year window closes, the state's civil court system will likely refuse to hear your case at all. That means you'll be left without any legal remedy, no matter how badly you were hurt or how clear it is that the person you want to sue was at fault for your injury.

Can the Statute of Limitations Deadline Be Extended In South Carolina?

A number of scenarios might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock" in South Carolina, or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the lawsuit-filing deadline. Let's look at a few.

If the Injured Person Was Under a "Legal Disability." If, at the time of the accident, the injured person was under 18 or had been declared "insane," they're considered to be under a "legal disability" under South Carolina law. Once the period of disability ends—meaning the injured person turns 18 or is declared sane —they'll usually have one year to get a civil lawsuit filed over the accident. South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-40.

If the Defendant Leaves the State. When the defendant (the person who's allegedly responsible for the plaintiff's injuries) goes absent from or lives outside South Carolina for one continuous year or more after the underlying accident—and before the lawsuit can be filed—the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the three-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-30.

Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In South Carolina?

An attorney can handle the ins and outs of filing your personal injury lawsuit. But in general, most personal injury lawsuits are filed in Circuit Court, the branch of South Carolina's trial courts that has jurisdiction over most civil lawsuits. There are 16 Judicial Circuits in the state. The circuit for the county where the person you're suing lives is typically the right place to file your case. Learn more about the South Carolina Judicial Branch (from sccourts.org)

You might want to consider bringing your case to South Carolina Magistrates (Small Claims) Court if your injuries are relatively minor and you're not planning on asking for more than $7,500 from the person you're suing.

Learn more about how to file a personal injury lawsuit.

What Happens If I'm Partly At Fault for My Injury In South Carolina?

In some personal injury cases, it might turn out that you share some degree of liability for the accident that led to your injury. If so, that can end up affecting the total amount of compensation ("damages") you can receive from other at-fault parties.

In shared fault injury cases, South Carolina follows a "modified comparative negligence rule." Under this rule, if your lawsuit makes it all the way to trial, the amount of compensation you'll be allowed to receive will be reduced by an amount that's equal to your percentage of fault. But if you're found to bear more of the fault than the person you're suing, you'll be barred from collecting any damages.

How Does South Carolina's Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your brake lights is out. During a civil trial, the jury decides that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 80 percent to blame. Your damages (including medical bills and lost income) add up to $20,000. Under South Carolina's modified comparative negligence rule, your damages will be reduced to $16,000 (or the $20,000 total minus the $4,000 that represents your 20 percent share of fault for the accident.)

South Carolina courts are obligated to follow this comparative negligence rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial. And even if you're only making an insurance claim for now, don't be surprised if the other side's insurance adjuster raises the issue of South Carolina's comparative negligence rule during settlement talks.

South Carolina Dog Owners Face "Strict Liability" for Dog Bites and Similar Injuries

In many situations, the owner of a dog can be held "strictly liable" any time their animal bites or injures someone in South Carolina, meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior or the amount of care the dog owner acted with, the owner can be held financially responsible for the injured person's harm. There are exceptions, including when the injured person was trespassing at the time of the injury, or when their teasing or provocation of the dog led to the attack. (S.C. Code of Laws section 47-3-110.)

Learn more about a dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries.

Are There Caps on Personal Injury Damages In South Carolina?

Some states place limits (or "caps") on the amount of damages that an injured person can be awarded in court, even after a successful trial. South Carolina has no generally-applicable cap on personal injury damages, but there are a few caps that can impact specific kinds of cases.

South Carolina Caps Non-Economic Damages In Medical Malpractice Cases

In most South Carolina medical malpractice cases, non-economic damages (which include compensation for an injured patient's "pain and suffering") are capped at a certain dollar amount per defendant, and there's an overall cap too. These caps are set to increase each year. Get the details on South Carolina's medical malpractice laws.

South Carolina Caps Punitive Damages

South Carolina also caps punitive damages, which is compensation that is awarded to an injured plaintiff but is intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious or outrageous behavior. In South Carolina, punitive damages in injury cases are limited to the greater of:

  • three times the plaintiff's actual damages, or
  • $500,000.

Get the details on punitive damages in personal injury cases.

Getting Help After an Injury In South Carolina

This article offers an objective summary of state laws that could affect your personal injury case in South Carolina. For information tailored to your situation, and a full understanding of your options, it might make sense to speak with an attorney. Get tips on finding the right injury attorney for you and your case.

If you're looking for more details on how personal injury claims work and what to expect from the process, check out these articles:

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