How Much Is My Case Worth?
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Damages in South Carolina – How much is your case worth?
Many clients ask, “How much is my case worth?” The simple answer is – it depends on the amount of “damages” you suffered. “Damages” means the total sum of money a plaintiff can be awarded in an injury lawsuit such as a car accident, truck accident, wrongful death, or various other injury. The facts around each case are different and each case needs attention to determine damages. This article is designed to explain the types of damages available in South Carolina lawsuits.
What are Compensatory Damages in South Carolina?
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate you for the damages you suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence or wrongful action. The objective is to put you, the injured person, in the same position as they were in before the accident, negligence, or wrongful action.
In South Carolina, plaintiffs are allowed to recover two types of compensatory damages: economic damages and non-economic damages?
What are Economic Damages?
Economic damages are those that can more easily be added up and calculated. Economic damages, sometimes called “special damages”, are measurable and objectively verifiable. These include lost wages/income, related medical bills, the cost of repairs to damaged property, the costs of materials needed to deal with the injury (i.e. wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, etc.), medical expenses as a result of the accident, future anticipated medical expenses and therapies, and loss of anticipated future wages.
What are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages, often called “general damages” are intended to compensate the injured person for non-monetary consequences of the accident, negligence, or wrongful act. These damages are subjective and more difficult to quantify with a receipt or pay stub. These include:
- Pain and suffering. When a negligent party causes physical pain and suffering, the plaintiff can receive compensation for that unquantifiable pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress or mental anguish. Accidents and injuries often impact individual more than just physically but also mentally. The almost always take an emotional toll on the injured party. These emotional damages can be recoverable and are considered “non-economic” damages.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. Many severe and catastrophic injuries impact a person’s ability to live the life they previously did. Perhaps they can not longer participate in physical activities they enjoyed before such as working out, spending time with family, sexual activity, or any type of hobbies.
- Loss of consortium. Sometimes referred to as “loss of companionship,” loss of consortium is the loss of the benefits of a normal family relationship. This includes a spouse providing the same love, affection, comfort, and sexual relationship to their partner as before the accident or injury.
What is the difference between economic and non-economic damages?
In general, economic damages are easily quantifiable – how many days did you miss work and how much lost pay? How expensive were the medical bills? How expensive was the damage to the property or cost to replace the property?
On the other end, non-economic damages are harder to quantify with a dollar amount. They include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
What are Punitive Damages in South Carolina?
Punitive damages are separate from compensatory damages and are designed to punish the defendant, wrongdoer, tortfeasor. They are not designed to compensate the plaintiff/injured person for their loss but instead to punish the defendant and deter future wrongdoers.
Punitive damages are only available if the plaintiff can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant actions were:
- Wanton, or
Willful, wanton, and reckless actions are legal terms that describes the defendant’s actions beyond just carelessness. These can be intentional or done without regard for others’ safety and wellbeing.
What is the difference between compensatory and punitive damages?
In short, compensatory damages are designed to compensate or pay the injured party and “make them whole.”
On the other hand, punitive damages are designed to (1) punish the defendant wrongdoer and (2) deter future bad actors.
Are damages capped in South Carolina? – Yes.
South Carolina, like most other states, have caps on the amount of certain types of damages that you can recover in a case. The following damages are capped in South Carolina:
Punitive damages are capped at $500,000 or 3x the actual damages (whichever is greater).
- For example, if a jury returns a verdict for $200,000 in actual damages (compensatory damages), and $1,000,000 in punitive damages, the Judge will lower the punitive damages to $600,000 (3 x actual damages/$200k = $600k).
Medical Malpractice cases, non-economic damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life) are capped at $350,000 per defendant and cannot exceed $1,050,000.
When suing governments and government officials, damages are capped at $300,000 per person or $600,000 per occurrence.
These damage caps are adjusted each year for inflation. As of 2021, the current medical malpractice damages caps in South Carolina for non-economic injuries are: $479,064 against a single care provider or institution and $1,437,192 for each claimant against ALL health care providers involved in a medical negligence claim. As of 2021, the current punitive damages cap in South Carolina is $594,204 or 3x your actual damages, whichever is higher.
It is important to talk to a knowledgeable litigation attorney in South Carolina to achieve the maximum amount possible for your injuries. Creative attorneys find responsible parties to help exceed the amount of damages available to plaintiffs.
Are damages impacted if I was negligent too? – Yes.
South Carolina follows the “modified comparative fault rule.” Under the modified comparative fault rule, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by their percentage of fault.
In addition, if the jury or fact finder determines the plaintiff is 50% or more at faulty, the plaintiff is barred from recovery any damages.
In other words, if a jury awards $100,000 in damages to the plaintiff but finds the plaintiff was 25% at fault, the plaintiff will receive $75,000.
If a jury awards a plaintiff $1,000,000 in damages but determines the plaintiff was 51% at fault, the plaintiff will receive $0.
It is important to contact an experienced, creative, and knowledgeable attorney so you receive the maximum amount of compensation available to you for your injury.