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Obtaining Compensation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

August 21, 2016

Sustaining an injury in any type of accident can be traumatic for victims and their loved ones. However, the process of recovery can be even more difficult when the accident was caused by another party’s negligence. Although it is often impossible for victims to return to their former lives, they may be able to obtain compensation for their losses by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Types of Personal Injury Claims

When one person’s negligence causes an accident, the injured party can recover compensation for the harm he or she suffered. Some of the most common personal injury lawsuits involve:

  • Defectively designed or manufactured consumer products;
  • Car and truck accidents;
  • Dog bites;
  • Medical malpractice;
  • Slip and falls; and
  • Work related accidents.

Establishing Negligence

In most cases, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the at-fault party was negligent. This requires a showing that:

  • The defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff;
  • The defendant breached that duty by behaving unreasonably;
  • The breach caused the plaintiff’s injury; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the breach.

In some cases, more than just one party’s negligence contributed to the accident. South Carolina law still allows injured parties to recover in these instances, even when they were the ones who helped contribute to the accident. This is because South Carolina adheres to a modified version of the comparative fault doctrine, which means that the amount of compensation the injured party can recover will be reduced by an amount equal to his or her percentage of fault. However, if the plaintiff is found to have been more than 50 percent responsible for the incident, then he or she will be barred from collecting anything from other at-fault parties.

Time Limits

In South Carolina, injured parties must bring their claim for damages within three years of the date of the injury. If a plaintiff fails to file a claim before this deadline, he or she risks missing out on the chance to obtain compensation as the case will almost always be barred. There are exceptions for those who are considered mentally incompetent and individuals who have not yet reached the age of 18 years.

Compensation

The cost of being involved in an injury-causing accident can be extremely high. Injured parties are often required to foot the bill for medical expenses and damaged property and in many cases, must take time off work as a result of their injuries. Plaintiffs can be compensated by the at-fault party for all of these costs, including medical expenses such as:

  • Medications;
  • Surgeries;
  • Emergency care;
  • Appointments with specialists;
  • Physical therapy; and
  • Assisted living.

However, these are not the only costs that can be recovered. Injured parties who establish the negligence of the defendant in causing their injury can also obtain compensation for:

  • Lost wages;
  • Loss of future income;
  • Property damage; and
  • Non-economic damages.

Depending on the severity of the injury, some plaintiffs may need to take weeks or even months off from work in order to heal. In some cases, the victim’s injuries are so severe that he or she is never able to return to work or must accept less grueling and lower paid employment in the future. This can put a heavy financial strain on families, especially those with only a single income, causing many to go into debt in an effort to pay medical bills. Fortunately, courts also award compensation for these types of losses as well as any property damage that occurred as a result of the accident.

Some losses, particularly those that are non-economic in nature are much more difficult to calculate. Non-economic damages primarily refer to the emotional distress and physical pain that accompany involvement in an accident and sustaining an injury. Non-economic damages can also include the cost of:

  • Inconvenience;
  • Physical impairment;
  • Disfigurement;
  • Mental anguish;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of society and companionship;
  • Loss of consortium;
  • Injury to reputation;
  • Humiliation; and
  • Fear of loss.

There is no fixed standard for calculating pain and suffering, so juries consider a series of factors when deciding on an amount, including:

  • The nature and extent of the injuries as well as the duration or prospective duration of the suffering caused by the injury;
  • The age, health, and condition of the injured party before the injury compared to his or her condition afterwards;
  • Any aggravation of pre-existing health problems; and
  • The plaintiff’s access to drugs or treatments to relieve pain.

These factors are then used to calculate the victim’s past and future losses.

Damage Caps

In some cases, where an at-fault party demonstrated particularly outrageous behavior, courts will award the plaintiff an additional sum, known as punitive damages. These awards are intended to punish the at-fault party and deter similar behavior in the future. In South Carolina, punitive damages awarded in a personal injury cases cannot exceed $500,000.

If a jury returns a verdict for punitive damages exceeding this amount the trial court must determine whether:

  • The wrongful conduct was motivated by unreasonable financial gain and the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct, combined with the high likelihood of injury was known or approved by someone responsible for making decisions on behalf of the defendant; or
  • The defendant’s actions could subject him or her to a felony conviction.

If either of these two factors apply, punitive damages cannot exceed $2,000,0000. However, there will be no cap on damages if the defendant:

  • Had the intent to harm the victim;
  • Was convicted of a felony arising out of the same act; or
  • Acted or failed to act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the degree that his or her judgment was substantially impaired.

The state has also placed a cap on the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases. In these types of cases, damages such as pain and suffering are limited to $350,000 per defendant and $1.05 million overall, regardless of the number of defendants.

Being injured as a result of someone else’s negligence can be not only painful, but also financially devastating for the victims, so if you are a South Carolina resident and were injured due to another person’s negligent act, please contact the Connell Law Firm by submitting a contact form and a member of our determined personal injury legal team in Columbia will help you schedule an initial consultation.