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

South Carolina's personal injury statutes of limitations, when you can get more time to file your lawsuit, and what happens if you miss the deadline.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Chances are you're here because you have a South Carolina personal injury claim and you want to know how long you have to file a lawsuit. You'll find the answer in one of South Carolina's personal injury statutes of limitations, laws that put deadlines on your time to file a lawsuit. We'll fill you in on the basics.

Starting with the state's three-year general rule, we walk you through the filing deadlines you're most likely to encounter. In some situations, South Carolina extends the statute of limitations, giving you more time to sue. We review some of the most common examples. Finally, we'll explain what you should do if you think you've run out of time to file, and what happens to your claim once the statute of limitations expires.

South Carolina's General Rule for Personal Injury Lawsuits: Three Years

The statute of limitations that covers most South Carolina personal injury lawsuits—S.C. Code § 15-3-530(5) (2024)— gives you three years to file your case in court. South Carolina follows the "discovery rule," meaning the statute of limitations clock starts running on the earlier of the date:

  • you knew you had a claim, or
  • you should have known you had a claim, had you diligently investigated.

(S.C. Code § 15-3-535 (2024).)

What Kinds of Lawsuits Are Covered by South Carolina's General Rule?

The three-year general rule applies to cases involving:

The same three-year deadline applies when personal injuries result in death, called a "wrongful death lawsuit." The statute of limitations starts running on the date of the victim's death. (S.C. Code § 15-3-530(6) (2024).)

The Medical Malpractice Discovery Rule

A different version of the discovery rule, detailed in S.C. Code § 15-3-545(A) (2024), applies to medical malpractice cases. The three-year clock runs from:

  • the date of the malpractice, or
  • if later, the date you discovered or should have discovered the malpractice.

But there's a catch. A second deadline, called a "statute of repose," puts a limit on the time you're given to discover the malpractice. Under this statute of repose, the latest you can sue is six years from the date of the malpractice.

Special Exceptions to the Medical Malpractice Deadlines

Special filing deadline rules apply in cases involving:

  • a foreign object carelessly left inside a patient's body, and
  • patients who are injured when they're younger than 18 years old.

(Learn more about South Carolina's medical malpractice laws, including the statute of limitations.)

Why the Discovery Rule Can Be Important (and You Might Be in for a Fight)

In most injury cases, you know you have a claim immediately, as soon as you're injured. Pain and other symptoms tell you that you've been hurt. Once you know you've been hurt, and that someone else's wrongdoing might be the cause, you're on notice that you have a claim. That's enough to start the statute of limitations clock on the date you're injured.

The discovery rule can be important in those unusual cases when you don't discover your injury right away. Instead of starting the statute of limitations clock as soon as you're hurt, the discovery rule pushes the start date back until you know (or should know) that you've likely got a claim. In short, the discovery rule can buy you more time to sue. And that's precisely the reason why the defendant (the party you're suing) will hate it.

If you plan to rely on the discovery rule for more time to file your case, expect a real fight from the defendant. You don't want to fight that battle on your own. By yourself, you'll quickly be in over your head. Hire a lawyer to represent you and make your arguments to the court.

Other South Carolina Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

South Carolina's three-year statute of limitations isn't a one-size-fits-all rule. There are some personal injury claims that have their own statutes of limitations. Here are some examples.

Defamation of Character

Suppose someone makes a false statement of fact about you that harms your reputation in the community. You might decide to sue for defamation of character. South Carolina law gives you two years, generally from the date a defamatory statement is first made about you, to sue for libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation). (S.C. Code § 15-3-550(1) (2024).)

False Imprisonment

When someone detains you against your will and without the legal authority to do so, the law calls it "false imprisonment." You've got two years from the date of the unlawful detention to file your lawsuit. (S.C. Code § 15-3-550(1) (2024).)

Extending South Carolina's Statute of Limitations Deadlines

In addition to the discovery rule, discussed above, there are a few situations when it's possible to extend the statute of limitations, giving you more time to file your case. Keep in mind that these extensions are exceptions to the normal statute of limitations rules. It's up to you to prove that an extension applies, based on the facts of your case. In many cases, as with the discovery rule, the defendant will object.

Injured Party Is Legally Disabled

A legally disabled person needs help, usually from a parent or guardian, to manage their legal affairs. For statute of limitations purposes, South Carolina considers as legally disabled a person who is:

  • a minor (younger than 18 years old), or
  • "insane."

When a legally disabled person gets injured in South Carolina, they might have extra time to file a lawsuit. If the statute of limitations expires before or within one year after their disability ends—the person's 18th birthday or the date the person is declared sane—they must file a lawsuit by:

  • one year after their 18th birthday, or
  • in the case of a person who was injured while insane, the earlier of five years after the date of injury (or discovery of the injury), or one year after the date they were declared sane.

(S.C. Code § 15-3-40 (2024).)

Once again, different rules apply in medical malpractice cases. (See S.C. Code § 15-3-545 (2024).)

Defendant Is Absent From South Carolina

When the defendant is absent from South Carolina at the time you're injured, the period they're away doesn't count against the statute of limitations. Similarly, if the defendant leaves South Carolina after you've been hurt and remains out of state for one year or longer, the time they're outside the state doesn't count against your filing deadline.

(S.C. Code § 15-3-30 (2024).)

The South Carolina Supreme Court has decided that this extension only applies when, because of the defendant's absence from the state, you can't get "service of process" on them. (See Meyer v. Paschal, 330 S.C. 175, 184 (1998).) Chances are you can. So this extension isn't likely to help, but ask your lawyer for details.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If you're worried that the statute of limitations has expired or is about to run out, first things first. Don't panic. Call a South Carolina personal injury lawyer right away. Here's what you need to know.

  • What is the statute of limitations for my personal injury case?
  • Has the filing deadline passed, or is it about to run out very soon?
  • If my time to file has expired (or is about to), will any extension give me more time?

Lawyers make their living by favorably arguing the facts of their clients' cases. If there's a good faith argument that you're entitled to a statute of limitations extension, you can bet your lawyer will think of it. That's what lawyers do. The argument might be a longshot, but some chance is better than none.

When the statute of limitations has run and no extension is available, your legal claim is dead. Unfortunately, nothing you do will bring it back to life. File a lawsuit and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it as untimely. The court will grant that request, because it must.

You won't fare any better if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your claim without having filed a lawsuit. The threat of a lawsuit is your main negotiating leverage. Once that's gone, there's no reason for the defendant (or its insurance company) to take you or your case seriously. There's nothing to settle because, in the eyes of South Carolina law, you don't have a legal claim.

Get Help With Your Statute of Limitations Problem

Don't wait until the statute of limitations becomes a problem to get legal help. When you've been hurt by someone's wrongdoing, one of the first things you need to know is how long you've got to file a case in court. A South Carolina attorney knows the state's filing deadlines and how they apply to your claim. Don't take needless chances with your right to seek compensation.

When you're ready to move forward, here's how you can find a lawyer in your area.

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