Punitive Damages

When another party causes you to be injured in South Carolina, you can recover compensation for the consequences you’ve experienced. Damages are the court’s remedy for compensating injured victims for their financial losses (economic damages) and the pain & suffering they experience (non-economic damages).

However, South Carolina law also provides for punitive damages in some situations. Punitive damages are only awarded in a small number of personal injury cases. A jury must award compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages) before considering punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages in a Rock Hill Personal Injury  Case?

What Are Punitive Damages in a Rock Hill Personal Injury  Case?

Punitive damages do not compensate you for your losses or injuries. Juries award punitive damages to “punish” the defendant (the party you sue) for specific types of behavior. The damages also deter the defendant and other parties from repeating the behavior that led to your injuries.

In South Carolina personal injury cases, the plaintiff (injured party) must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with “willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.” Gross negligence is defined as willful, wanton, and reckless conduct. Proving negligence is not sufficient for punitive damages.

A person is grossly negligent when their conduct demonstrates a complete disregard for the safety of others. Examples of cases that might qualify for punitive damages include, but are not limited to, DUI accidents and intentional acts that cause someone to be injured.

A plaintiff must prove the defendant’s conduct was willful, wanton, and reckless by “clear and convincing evidence.” This burden of proof is higher than “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is what is required to prove liability for compensatory damages. However, clear and convincing is lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What Do Juries Consider When Awarding Punitive Damages in South Carolina?

Juries determine whether to award punitive damages and how much to award by considering several factors. Those factors include:

  • Attempts by the defendant to hide the conduct
  • The defendant’s history of reckless conduct
  • The degree of punishment needed to deter the defendant and others from engaging in the conduct
  • The defendant’s level of responsibility for the act
  • Whether the defendant profited from their conduct
  • The severity of the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The defendant’s financial status and ability to pay punitive damages

The jurors may consider other factors when deciding punitive damages. Generally, punitive damages are only awarded after a trial. However, an experienced Rock Hill personal injury lawyer uses the potential for punitive damages during settlement negotiations to argue for a higher settlement amount.

Insurance companies and at-fault parties may agree to a higher settlement amount if they recognize a jury could impose a large amount for punitive damages if the case goes to trial. Therefore, we evaluate every case for punitive damages to determine whether accepting a settlement or going to trial is the best option for a personal injury case.

Is There a Cap on Punitive Damages in South Carolina Personal Injury Cases?

A cap limits the amount of money an injured party can receive for damages. Punitive damages are capped in South Carolina. The law limits punitive damages to:

  • Three times the amount of compensatory damages (economic and non-economic)
  • $699,761 (the amount is adjusted each year for inflation; this is the amount for 2024)

For example, if your compensatory damages equal $200,000, you could receive three times that amount ($600,000) or the statutory cap of $699,761. However, if the jury awards you $500,000 for compensatory damages, you could receive three times that amount ($1,500,000.)

Juries are not told how much they can award for punitive damages. They are not given the amount of the caps for punitive damages. Instead, judges reduce punitive damages if the award exceeds the maximum cap.

The cap for punitive damages does not apply in all cases. Injury claims involving drugs or alcohol do not have caps on punitive damages, such as a drunk or drugged driving accident. If a person intentionally caused you harm, the cap on punitive damages might not apply.

What Should I Do if I’m Injured in an Accident or by Another Party in Rock Hill, SC?

Your steps after an injury could significantly impact whether you receive compensatory and punitive damages. Immediately report the accident to the property individuals or agencies (e.g., call 911 to report a car accident, report a slip-and-fall accident to the property owner, and other steps as appropriate).

Document the accident scene by taking photos and making a video if possible. Ask witnesses for their names and contact information. Seek immediate medical treatment for your injuries.

Call a Rock Hill personal injury lawyer at 803-324-7574 for a free consultation as soon as possible. The best way to understand your legal options and learn how much your case is worth is to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney.