The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that almost 200,000 accidental injury deaths happened, while approximately 40 million attended medical injuries or poisoning episodes occur within the country over the course a single year. These injuries can happen in various ways. Some injuries come without warning; others are unintentionally self-inflicted. Then there are those injuries that would not have happened if not for another party’s negligence. In instances of negligence, the victim has the right to take legal action against the responsible party to recover compensation. These types of cases are known as personal injury lawsuits.
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A personal injury lawsuit is filed by the victim (the plaintiff), as a civil action, against the at-fault party (the defendant) to recover damages. The lawsuit claims that the victim’s injuries would not have occurred if not for the defendant’s actions or behavior. The plaintiff, or victim, must prove four components to validate their personal injury case. These components are:
- Duty of care- The plaintiff must prove, initially, that there was an obligation of a duty of care between the plaintiff and defendant. For example, if two drivers collide with one another, each of them had an implicit duty to operate their vehicles properly and responsibly.
- Breach of duty of care: The plaintiff will then need to prove that the defendant committed the breach of duty of care. This means that the defendant was negligent, or failed to act with the same level of concern as any other person would in the same situation.
- Causation: The plaintiff must then prove that the injury would not have been suffered if the defendant had not committed a breach of duty of care. In other words, the defendant’s negligence resulted in the injuries.
- Damages: The plaintiff will then need to provide evidence of the damages, economic and noneconomic, that resulted from the accident. A few examples of these would be: injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain, etc.
In contrast to criminal court, plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits do not have to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The plaintiff is responsible in proving “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, the plaintiff must prove that their account of the accident is more than likely the truth.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
An individual may file a personal injury lawsuit for almost any accident that has resulted from negligence-based actions. Some of the most common cases involve:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Aviation accidents
- Boat accidents
- Bus accidents
- Dog bites
- Defective products
- Amusement park accidents
- Slip and falls
- Premises liability
- Wrongful death
- Medical malpractice
If an accident that is not listed has occurred, you may still be eligible to file a claim. Contact a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer at Elrod Pope to set up a free consultation to have any questions you have answered.
What Damages Are Available in a Personal Injury Claim?
Most individuals will file a personal injury lawsuit because an insurance settlement cannot be agreed upon, or the victim has suffered injuries so extensive that a court case is the only way to recover adequate compensation.
A personal injury claim can allow the victim to recover damages equal to the value of all losses they have incurred. Here are the types of compensation you may find yourself eligible to receive:
- Pain and suffering: Determining the value of one’s pain and suffering is difficult, but courts regularly award compensation for these types of damages. Along with any physical pain, a victim may also be rewarded for emotional suffering.
- Medical expenses: This is the most common compensation sought. The high costs of medical treatment can bankrupt an individual, making it critical to be reimbursed for these losses.
- Lost wages: These are economic damages, which involve compensation for wages lost and lost benefits such as pensions, future wages, and retirement funds.
- Future expenses: These damages are for impending expenses the victim may incur. Rehabilitation, scheduled surgeries, potential lost income are just a few examples of these damages.
- Funeral and burial expenses: In the event a victim of personal injury dies; their surviving family members are entitled to compensation for funeral and burial costs.
- Loss of consortium: If an accident leaves some individual disabled or with a fatal injury, leaving them unable to support, comfort, counsel, spend time with, or give guidance to their family, the individual will be eligible for loss of consortium benefits
- Punitive damages. South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-32-520 states, that if the accident was a result of the defendant’s “conduct being willful, wanton, or reckless”, the victim may be awarded punitive damages. These damages are added as a punishment to the defendant, and to be used as deterrent against future occurrences.
Noneconomic and punitive damages do have caps placed on them during a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina. Noneconomic damages are only capped in cases of medical malpractice. The cap is set at $350,000 per defendant and $1.05 million per case, even if there are multiple defendants. Punitive damages will be capped by the state at $500,000 dollars or three times the amount of the compensation recovered, whichever is greater.
Comparative Negligence in a Personal Injury Case
Comparative negligence laws are applied in South Carolina personal injury cases. These laws may play a large role in a personal injury case. These laws deal with an individual’s level of responsibility for the accident. This means if the individual is more than 50% at fault for their injuries they will not be eligible to file a claim for compensation.
If a claim is allowed, then the total amount of compensation will be reduced in proportion to the victim’s degree of fault. For example, if a victim’s compensation totals $50,000, but they are found to be 5% at fault, they will only receive $47,500.
It should come as no surprise that the defendant will try to place some of the blame on the victim. This is a frequently used strategy to decrease the amount of damage that the defendant is liable to pay. A plaintiff will need to be prepared for this scenario. An attorney will be able to help in these types of situations.
Proving Fault in a Personal Injury Case
The most important aspect of a personal injury case is proving who was at fault. If a plaintiff is unable to prove fault, the defendant cannot be held liable for any damages or injuries.
Standard of proof is much different in personal injury lawsuits compared to criminal cases. Standards of proof in criminal cases consist of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and the concept that a defendant is “innocent until proven guilty.” Civil cases, however, use the standard of proof called “preponderance of evidence.”
Preponderance of the evidence refers to the plaintiff’s account of events being found more likely true than not. This does not mean there cannot be any doubt about the plaintiff’s version, but that the version is more than likely accurate.
Proof of the preponderance of the evidence can be challenging sometimes. To prove fault and hold the defendant liable for injuries, evidence must be presented. Photographs, police reports, witness testimony, expert testimony, medical reports, and physical evidence are all important and valuable to a personal injury lawsuit.
It can be difficult to gather evidence after an accident, especially if you have suffered severe injuries. Having a personal injury lawyer with access to expert investigators can greatly benefit a victim.
Negligence Under South Carolina Law
Negligence is the failure to take proper care of something, and/or the failure to conduct one’s self with the same level of care that another ordinary, prudent, individual would in the same situation. Irresponsibility is an easier way to describe negligence.
Most personal injury cases will define negligence as it is described above. To recover damages, the plaintiff will need to prove the negligence of the defendant’s actions. Failing to maintain property in a safe state, manufacture of unsafe products, cross contamination of food, speeding, and driving while intoxicated are just a few examples of negligent behavior.
In cases of medical malpractice, the definition alters slightly. “Doing that which the reasonably prudent health care provider or health care institution would not do or not doing what the reasonably prudent health care provider or health care institution would do in the same or similar circumstances,” is the way medical malpractice is described in Title 15 – Civil Remedies and Procedures of South Carolina Code of Laws.
It is important to keep in mind that shared negligence is possible. Negligence can be shared by the plaintiff and defendant, but also amongst multiple defendants.
Dog Bites – Overview
Rather than negligence, dog bites are one aspect of civil law where strict liability usually applies. The owner of a dog will be held liable for any injuries that the dog causes to another person, assuming that the bite occurred in a public and lawful place and the person bitten was not provoking the dog at the time of attack, per South Carolina Code of Laws Title 47. Strict liability means, the victim will not need to prove negligence on part of the dog owner for the owner to be held liable for injuries. Also, the victim will not need to prove that the dog has had a history of attacking others or that it is dangerous. The dog’s owner will be responsible for paying for any injuries, as long as the victim bitten in a lawful area and did not provide the animal a reason to attack. The victim will be able to recover compensation for economic losses if they pursue the claim using statutory law.
Filing a Negligence Based Claim
If the victim believes the owner of the dog directly contributed to the dog biting them, the victim may be able to file a negligence-based claim against the owner. If the dog had a history or propensity for violence and was not properly restrained, violation of leash laws, or violation of breed laws may be considered negligent behavior.
Pursuing a negligence-based claim has its benefits and disadvantages. The main benefit is the potential to recover more compensation, this includes pain and suffering compensation. It is advisable to take this action if the victim suffers from serious injury or permanent disfigurement.
The disadvantage is that, unlike statutory law, a negligence-based case requires the plaintiff to prove that the dog owner did something wrong.
As with any personal injury claim case, the case must be filed within three years of the date the bite occurred to receive any compensation.
Determining Who Is at Fault for an Injury
To begin, one must determine on whom should the fault be placed, then be able to prove the fault of said individual. In certain cases, such as accidents involving DUI, it is easy to determine the responsible party. In other cases, fault may be more difficult to determine.
Take, for instance, an accident between a fatigued truck driver and another motorist. After thorough investigation, it is found that the truck driver was fatigued and had taken supplements to stay awake. It would be easy to assume that the truck driver was 100% at fault, but other evidence revealed that the driver had violated their hours of service logs. This means they had driven more hours than the federal government legally allows. This infraction was committed under the direct orders of the truck driver’s employer, who was aware that doing so was illegal. Now, the employer appears to be liable for the accident.
Instances like the one above are not uncommon, it is a regular occurrence for multiple parties to be named liable in a personal injury claim. So how do you know who to name as the party at-fault?
Conducting a Thorough Investigation
Thorough investigation is the only way to truly determine the liable party in a personal injury accident case. These investigations collect evidence and then review and analyze that information for more accurate details.
Finding the evidence that is needed to press charges or develop a claim can be very difficult for most individuals that have suffered from an accident. In this situation, an experienced personal injury lawyer can make all the difference to your case: attorneys can recruit the proper experts, such as accident reconstruction experts that can determine who is at fault for a car accident, and/or are well trained on the proper methods to collect evidence. Having an attorney assist you with your claim will give you the ability to located all the at-fault parties.
Contact an Experienced South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney Now
If you are in South Carolina and have suffered an injury from any type of accident, it is highly recommended that you schedule a free consultation with an experienced South Carolina personal injury lawyer. We are available to meet and discuss your claim at your earliest convenience. If you are unable to visit our location in Rock Hill, South Carolina, we will be more than happy to come to you.
Picking up the phone and discussing your claim with one of our talented attorneys is the first step in recovering the money you deserve.