A car accident can happen any time and at any place in South Carolina. While some may believe that car accidents are more likely to occur on long trips like family vacations, the truth is a person is just as likely to be involved in an injury accident while running errands or making a routine trip to work or to pick up children from school. With more and more individuals sharing roads that are becoming increasingly congested, the risk of a person suffering a serious injury in a car accident seems to increase. It is for this reason that a South Carolina personal injury lawyer is so important.
Car Accident Statistics in South Carolina
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety maintains statistics concerning the number of traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities that occur each year on South Carolina roadways. These statistics show, for example, that:
- Between 2015 and 2016, the total number of fatal vehicle crashes in which at least one person was killed decreased by approximately 19, from 161 to 142;
- Between 2015 and 2016, the total number of individuals killed in fatal accidents also declined by 19, from 171 people in 2013 to 152 in 2014; and
- Of the 152 people killed in car accidents in 2014, 58 of them were not wearing safety belts at the time of the crash (over one-third of those killed).
These statistics are only part of the story, however. Many more South Carolina residents are seriously injured in car accidents each year, and even more still are involved in car accidents that result in only damage to property. These statistics show that South Carolina drivers do face a real and significant risk to their own health and wellbeing every time they buckle themselves into their cars and start their engines.
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Common Causes of South Carolina Car Accidents
Many car accidents (both injury and fatal) in South Carolina result from the negligent (or careless) actions of one or more individuals. It is safe to say that many accidents in South Carolina could be avoided if drivers exercised a greater degree of care when driving. Some of the more common reasons car accidents occur in South Carolina include:
- Distracted driving, where the driver’s eyes and/or attention is taken off of the road by a cellphone, text message, a noisy child in the backseat, and/or the radio;
- Drunk driving, or any time a driver gets behind the wheel when he or she is under the influence of some substance that makes it unsafe for that person to operate his or her car;
- Speeding, including situations where a driver is traveling too fast given the road conditions (i.e., where there is ice, rain, or fog);
- Disobeying traffic signs and signals, either because the driver simply does not observe these signs and signals or because the driver deliberately ignores them;
- Driving while drowsy, where the driver has not taken a sufficient amount of breaks while driving or where the driver has not gotten a sufficient amount of sleep;
- Violations of other traffic laws; and
- Defective parts and equipment on the car (such as the car’s brakes, tires, airbags, and/or steering assembly).
Determining the cause of a car accident is just the first step in determining who, if anyone, can be held responsible for the victim’s injuries. Even a rather “simple” car accident can require a significant investment of time and resources in order to identify all of the causes – and hence, all of the responsible parties – involved in the accident. While many car injury victims do not have these requisite resources, an experienced South Carolina car accident lawyer should be able to conduct a thorough yet efficient investigation into a client’s car accident.
Elements of a Car Accident Claim in South Carolina
Car accident lawsuits are premised on negligence – that is, a car accident injury victim (called the “plaintiff”) is entitled to recovery against another person (the “defendant”) when the defendant’s own careless or reckless conduct causes a motor vehicle crash with the plaintiff and the plaintiff is injured thereby. In order to be entitled to recovery of compensation, the plaintiff must establish that:
- The defendant owed him or her a “duty of care.” This element is very rarely contested in car accident cases because it is widely accepted that each driver owes every other driver, pedestrian, bicyclist, and/or motorcyclist, or any person using a roadway or sidewalk, a “duty” to drive his or her car is a reasonable and responsible manner.
- The defendant “breached” the duty of care by acting recklessly or negligently. In other words, the plaintiff must next show that the defendant-driver behaved in an unreasonable manner. Whether certain activities or behaviors are “reasonable” is always determined by considering an objective and rational driver. If this objective and rational driver would not have engaged in the behavior or activity engaged in by the defendant, then the defendant’s behavior or activities are considered to be unreasonable. Some activities are clearly unreasonable: texting while driving, drunk driving, and disobeying traffic laws or signs are all actions which will almost always be determined to be breaches of the duty of care. Other activities, such as swerving into oncoming traffic to avoid a collision with a pedestrian, are more difficult to classify.
- The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries. That is, there must be a causal connection between the defendant’s unreasonable activities and the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff would not have been injured but for the defendant’s activities, then the necessary causal connection likely exists. In addition, the defendant can be held liable for any additional injuries that the plaintiff may suffer as a direct consequence of the original injuries he or she causes. For example, suppose the defendant crashes into another driver in a remote part of the state and causes a traumatic brain injury to the plaintiff. Because of the remoteness of the location of the crash, the plaintiff is not able to receive medical attention promptly. As a result, the plaintiff’s traumatic brain injury is more severe than it would have otherwise been had the plaintiff received timely treatment. In this case, the defendant is responsible for the additional expenses and losses suffered by the plaintiff because of his or her more serious traumatic brain injury, even though the defendant may not have had any direct control over the amount of time it took to get medical treatment for the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff’s injuries can be compensated with a monetary judgment. If the plaintiff cannot prove he or she suffered any compensable loss, then there is no reason for the court to enter any judgment. The plaintiff must be prepared to show how much he or she has been injured and to back up the amount he or she is requesting in the lawsuit with evidence.
Each of these propositions must be proven to a judge or jury by a preponderance of the evidence – that is, with enough evidence that makes each proposition more likely than not true. The judge or jury (whoever is hearing the lawsuit) determine whether sufficient evidence has been presented to meet this burden. If the burden is met, then the plaintiff will be awarded compensation.
Damages Available to Car Accident Plaintiffs in South Carolina
An injured plaintiff in a South Carolina lawsuit can recover compensation for a wide variety of past and future expenses and losses so long as the plaintiff can show these losses and expenses are attributable to the defendant. Common damages recovered by car accident victims in South Carolina include:
- Medical bills, ambulance bills, insurance deductibles, and hospital stays;
- The cost of reparative or reconstructive surgeries;
- Ongoing therapy and treatment that the plaintiff will need;
- Prescription medications; and
- Assistive devices and/or services that the plaintiff will require (such as home health care).
- Lost wages;
- Time the plaintiff will miss from work in the future because of his or her injury and any treatment therefor;
- The value of any promotions or additional compensation that the plaintiff will be unable to take advantage of because of his or her injuries; and
- Any assistive devices that the plaintiff needs in order to be able to return to work.
- Mental pain, anguish, and suffering caused by the injury;
- Loss of enjoyment of life; and
- Scarring/disfigurement and the emotional toll that these injuries cause.
In addition, a driver who deliberately or with indifference to the life and health of the plaintiff causes a car accident with the plaintiff may also be ordered to pay punitive damages. As the name implies, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant-driver and send a clear, unequivocal message that behavior like his or hers is not acceptable or tolerated. Punitive damages are not available in the vast majority of cases (because these are premised on negligence or recklessness), but where such damages are available plaintiffs may be able to recover significantly more in compensation than simply the direct losses and expenses they experienced.
Drunk Driving Accidents
Historically South Carolina has had one of the worst rates of drunk driving fatalities in the nation. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in 2014 there were 335 alcohol-related fatalities in which a driver had a breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater. A driver who operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and who causes a car accident can be held civilly responsible for the injuries he or she causes to another – even if he or she is under the “legal limit” of .08. This is in addition to any criminal penalties that may be imposed by a criminal court.
Driving while under the influence of alcohol significantly increases the likelihood that a driver will be involved in a motor vehicle accident. This is because alcohol consumption can result in:
- An increase in the amount of time it takes a driver to react to hazards or obstacles;
- A decrease in the driver’s ability to hear and see external stimuli (meaning it is more difficult for the driver to hear a car horn from an approaching vehicle or see the headlights of a vehicle in his or her way);
- A decrease in the driver’s ability to multitask (such as turning a steering wheel while controlling the speed of a vehicle);
- A decrease in the driver’s ability to make sound, rational decisions; and
- An increase in the driver’s willingness to take unnecessary and dangerous risks.
If you or a loved one is involved in a crash wherein you suspect the at-fault driver has consumed too much alcohol, it is important you and/or your attorney act quickly in order to preserve important evidence that can help your case, including the results of any breath- or blood-alcohol tests performed on the at-fault driver.
Statute of Limitations
A car accident injury victim only has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit seeking compensation. The law that establishes the timeframe within which a car accident suit is to be filed is known as the statute of limitations. In South Carolina, the relevant statute of limitations gives car accident victims three years from the date of their injury crash within which to file their lawsuit for compensation. The “clock” begins to run on the date of your crash and (in most cases) does not stop running until either a lawsuit has been filed or the relevant time period has elapsed. If an injury victim attempts to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, the victim’s lawsuit may be dismissed without the merits of the lawsuit ever being addressed. Not only this, but the victim would be prevented from ever filing any future lawsuit seeking compensation for those injuries. This is why it is important to contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible following your crash.
In some cases, a car accident victim’s injuries are not immediately apparent but instead may develop in the days, weeks or (in some extreme cases) months following the crash. In this situation, the statute of limitations may be tolled – or “paused” – between the time of the crash and the time the victim actually discovers (or should have discovered) that he or she suffered injuries. In addition, if the allegedly responsible party cannot be served with a copy of the plaintiff’s complaint (thereby initiating the lawsuit) because he or she is avoiding or evading service, then the statute of limitations may be tolled until the responsible party is actually located and served.
Ridesharing and taxicabs are a popular alternative to driving for individuals who do not want the hassle and expenses associated with owning a car or those who want to enjoy a night out on the town without worrying about how they will get back home. Unfortunately, taxicabs and Uber vehicles are not immune to being involved in a car accident. Passengers can suffer significant injuries while riding as a passenger in a taxicab or ridesharing vehicle.
Uber drivers and taxicab drivers must generally carry insurance sufficient to cover the medical expenses and other losses of any passengers they may be carrying. Drivers who fail to do so may not only face administrative sanctions, but they may also be determined to be personally responsible for the losses and expenses of their injured passengers. A South Carolina car accident lawyer will need to review the facts and circumstances of your case in order to determine who can be held responsible for your injuries and losses.
Passengers should be careful when using ridesharing services and/or taxicabs to get around. Make certain the taxicab company is properly licensed before getting into the taxicab. Similarly, passengers should ensure that the individual described in their rideshare confirmation is the same individual that appears to pick them up. When in doubt, passengers should refuse to get into a taxicab or rideshare vehicle and request another vehicle or seek alternative means of travel.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, since 2000 the per capita bicycle fatality rate in South Carolina has doubled the national average for six years. Bicyclists injured in collisions with motor vehicles are also able to recover compensation for their injuries so long as the cause of the collision is not more their own fault than the fault of the driver. A bicyclist who disobeys traffic laws and rules, who takes unnecessary risks while riding, who is not wearing appropriate protective equipment, and/or who is not looking where he or she is riding may find that the compensation award to which he or she is entitled is reduced because of his or her own behavior. In certain extreme cases, the bicyclist may not be able to recover any compensation at all if his or her own behavior was the primary cause of the collision.
Like injured motorists, injured bicyclists can recover compensation or all economic and noneconomic injuries that the bicyclist sustains as a result of the collision. In determining whether an injury or loss was in fact caused by the collision, the bicyclist and his or her attorney may find it necessary to employ one or more expert witnesses. These witnesses can be called upon not only to establish that the driver’s behaviors caused the crash but also to minimize the role of the bicyclist’s own behavior in causing the crash or his or her resulting injuries.
When a pedestrian is struck by a car or truck, the pedestrian (obviously) is at greater risk of suffering significant injuries. In some of these cases, it is possible that a wrongful death may occur. Investigating these cases may require the use of one or more expert witnesses who can examine the injuries of the pedestrian and the damage to the driver’s car and determine whether the damage to the car is consistent with a pedestrian crash that would have produced the type of injuries seen in the pedestrian.
Depending on the speed of the vehicle, where and how the pedestrian is hit, and where the pedestrian lands, injuries can range in severity from small bruises and cuts to severe traumatic brain injuries. It is crucial that injured pedestrians receive immediate medical attention following a pedestrian crash if they suspect they may have suffered a head or neck injury.
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In pedestrian accident cases, the pedestrian’s own behavior will be scrutinized to determine if he or she contributed to the crash. Failing to follow traffic control devices, wearing dark clothing at night, not looking before crossing the street, or walking while focused on his or her cellphone are all examples of behavior that can be found to be “careless” and result in a reduction of the compensation award to which the pedestrian would have otherwise been entitled. Having a South Carolina pedestrian accident attorney’s assistance can help the pedestrian maximize his or her potential recovery.