South Carolina Tort Claims Act - What is the South Carolina Tort Claims Act damages cap?
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What is the South Carolina Tort Claims Act?
The South Carolina Tort Claims Act is a state statute that permits individuals to sue and hold liable government employees and individuals for their actions in certain circumstances where an individual is injured. Before enacting the Tort Claims Act, government employees and officials had total immunity – they could not be successfully sued for injuries they caused. As discussed below, however, there are damages caps to claims against the government and its officials and employees.
What is the South Carolina Tort Claims Act Damages Cap?
The South Carlina Tort Claims Act Cap statutory cap is $300,000 per person for acts arising from a single occurrence. The total sum that can be recovered from a single occurrence cannot exceed $600,000 regardless of the number of agencies, political subdivisions, claims, or actions involved.
Therefore – if you or a loved one is suing a South Carolina government employee, agency, or official, the damages are capped at $300,000 per person or $600,000 per occurrence.
Unlike the medical malpractice damages caps, the Tort Claims Act damages caps are NOT adjusted for inflation. Though, they should be.
However, creative lawyers can argue for more than one “occurrence” and there may be separate and cognizable claims in addition to your claim.
Assume the following hypothetical, a child is paralyzed on a playground because of the schools negligence and the child’s family paid $200,000 in medical bills. The child has a claim for the injuries he or she sustained and that is capped at $300,000 under state law. However, the parent may also have a claim for the medical bills they incurred and therefore they may be able to recover $600,000 for this single “occurrence” from the school district under state law. (Creative lawyers may also find other pockets to sue under this hypothetical too such as the equipment manufacturer, maintenance/repair crew, or some other negligent actor). Here – as against just the school district – both the child and the parent may have claims for this single occurrence and can collect $600,000.
A parent’s claims for a child’s medical expenses and loss of services are claims that are separately cognizable from the child’s claims under the Tort Claims Act. Wright v. Colleton County School Dist., 301 S.C. 282 (1990). In Wright, a minor child was seriously injured while working on the premises owned by the Colleton County School District. Id. The child’s mother brought suit, under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, against the School District for hospital and medical bills and for the loss of services of her minor son. Id. On appeal, the Supreme Court of South Carolina held that the parent’s mother could recover for the child’s medical bills as well as the loss of her child’s services. Id. In Wright, where the parent’s and child’s damages each exceeded $250,000 (the recoverable cap in 1990), the parent was entitled to receive $250,000 in damages, as the maximum amount a person may recover under § 15-78-120(a)(1) because of a loss arising from a single occurrence, without regard to the $250,000 in damages which had already been paid for the child’s claims. Id. See also Endres v. Greenville Hosp. System, 312 S.C. 64 (1993).
While a parent has a “loss” and can recover for loss of services, South Carolina courts have held that a parent cannot recover for loss of consortium. Long v. Wray Auto., Inc., 2006 WL 3612875, at *3–4 (D.S.C. Dec. 8, 2006) (citing Kirkland v. Sam’s East, Inc., 411 F.Supp.2d 639 (D.S.C. 2005); Taylor v. Medinica, 324 S.C. 200 (1996)); See also Endres v. Greenville Hosp. System, 312 S.C. 64 (1993) (finding that parents’ claims for actual damages relating to child’s medical expenses were not barred despite settlement of the suit by the child against the hospital for the maximum amount recover under the Charitable Immunity Act).
Finally, as for the calculation of damages, the collateral source rule barred admission of amounts actually paid by Medicare toward an injured party’s medical bills in a plaintiff’s SCTCA action. Parker v. Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer Dist., 362 S.C. 276 (Ct. App. 2005).
When the SCTCA applies and individual defendants are found to have committed intentional, fraudulent, malicious, or criminal acts, then the SCTCA’s usual protections for individual defendants do not apply. Such conduct would allow a plaintiff to recover in full.
Even when the defendants are numerous, the cap remains in effect, and the only mechanism to increase recovery is to plead and prove additional occurrences. For each occurrence, the total sum of recovery, regardless of the number of plaintiffs, is limited to $600,000.