When an individual is injured due to someone else’s negligence, the law requires the negligent person to make the injured person whole again. While this general principle sounds fair, in practice it can be very hard to determine what amount of compensation will “make up” for the harm done. For example, if a negligent store owner leaves a puddle of water standing on the tile floor of his shop and as a result a customer slips, falls, and breaks her arm, what amount of money will adequately compensate the injured customer? Some dollar amounts are easy to calculate; for instance, it would only be fair that the store owner pays for the customer’s hospital bill, which is a set amount. However some damages, like the customer’s pain and suffering, are hard to assign a dollar amount to. Therefore, in South Carolina there are a variety of different damages available to personal injury lawsuit plaintiffs who win in court. Some of the compensation types that successful personal injury plaintiffs may be able to recover include:
– Pain and Suffering: Plaintiffs who suffer serious pain during an accident and its aftermath may be awarded pain and suffering damages. It can be very challenging to assign a fair dollar amount to adequately compensate a plaintiff for pain and suffering, and sometimes, if the accident was particularly horrific, juries are willing to award significant pain and suffering awards. Because pain and suffering awards are so hard to accurately estimate, insurance companies are sometimes willing to settle these cases outside of court rather than risking a jury trial.
– Emotional Distress: Sometimes emotional distress damages fall under the umbrella of pain and suffering. However, emotional distress damages are specifically intended to compensate a personal injury plaintiff for the negative psychological impact of an injury (for example, fear, anxiety, loss of sleep, etc.). Emotional distress can also be hard to prove but is often demonstrated through psychiatric records.
– Loss of Enjoyment: Loss of enjoyment damages are meant to compensate injured plaintiffs who are no longer able to enjoy day-to-day activities that they used to take part in prior to the accident. For example, a plaintiff who previously was an avid marathon runner, skier, or surfer and who is no longer able to enjoy these hobbies may be able to recover loss of enjoyment damages.
– Medical Expenses: Medical expenses are some of the most commonly sought damages in personal injury cases and, depending on the nature of the plaintiff’s injuries, may total hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. The idea is that these damages will reimburse the cost of medical treatment that the plaintiff has already received and will provide for the estimated cost of future medical care. Future medical expenses can be challenging to calculate, especially if the plaintiff is permanently disabled and is in need of lifelong care. Be aware that under some circumstances these damages must be handed over to the plaintiff’s health insurance company if the insurance provider has been paying the plaintiff’s medical bills.
– Lost Wages: If an injury causes a plaintiff to miss work, or renders them unable to work altogether, the injured individual can recover compensation for lost wages. In other words, a plaintiff may be entitled to compensation for both the wages that he or she has already lost as well as compensation for income that they no longer will be able to make in the future due to the accident.
– Loss of Consortium: Loss of consortium damages are intended to compensate individuals whose close personal relationships have been dramatically and negatively affected by the accident. These damages are often awarded to the family members of a severely injured or deceased plaintiff who is no longer able to support, counsel, or spend time with their loved ones.
– Funeral and Burial Expenses: If a deceased plaintiff’s family members file a wrongful death personal injury lawsuit on behalf of their loved one the court will generally award damages to cover the cost of burying the deceased.
– Punitive Damages: South Carolina allows punitive damages to be awarded in certain kinds of personal injury cases, but it is worth noting that not all states do. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. The idea is these damages will punish the individual defendant who acted egregiously and will deter others from acting in a similar manner in the future. These awards can be huge; however, South Carolina does restrict punitive damage awards in personal injury cases.
– Property Loss: Successful plaintiffs may also be able to recover damages for property that was harmed during the accident. For example, if the plaintiff was injured in a car accident during which their car was totaled, the court may award property loss damages to the plaintiff for the fair market value of the vehicle. This claim would be handled separate and apart from any personal injury claim.
Be Aware that South Carolina Caps Certain Damages
It is important to note that some states, including South Carolina, cap the amount of certain types of damages that a successful plaintiff can recover in some kinds of lawsuits. The general rationale behind capping damages is that by preventing exorbitantly high personal injury awards the high costs of doing business can be managed, and therefore the economy protected. Another frequently posed argument is that damage caps help deter plaintiffs who only file lawsuits in the hopes of being awarded an exorbitant amount of money. However, some states have not bought into these rationales and consequently have not enacted damage caps.
In South Carolina there are some caps are placed on both noneconomic damages and punitive damages. Some examples include:
- Medical Malpractice Claims: Noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims are capped at $350,000 per defendant and $1.05 million per case (even if multiple defendants are named). Section 15-32-220.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are capped at $500,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is greater, except in certain circumstances. Section 15-32-530.
While these damage caps apply in most cases, it should be noted that exceptions are made in some situations. For example, a damage cap may be increased, or eliminated altogether, if the case involved death or grievous bodily harm. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to tell you which, if any, damage caps apply to your case and should be able to determine whether or not the cap is likely to be increased or eliminated given the extent of your injuries.
Need Legal Advice?
Experienced accident lawyers know how to negotiate and argue personal injury cases in a manner that enables their clients to recover the maximum amount of damages allowed by law. If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence and are interested in filing a personal injury claim in South Carolina contact the Elrod Pope Law Firm without delay. Our dedicated South Carolina personal injury legal team has offices in both Rock Hill and Lake Wylie and would be happy to meet with you during a free initial consultation.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.