car crashed into fence

After a serious accident such as a car crash, you will likely need a lot of financial help to get your life back to normal. When the accident wasn’t your fault, you can usually sue for compensatory damages, such as the cost of your medical bills, property damage, any income you lost while recovering, and even the pain and suffering you experienced.

However, there is another type of financial award you may be eligible for: punitive damages.

What are Punitive Damages?

Unlike compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the injured person, punitive damages are designed to punish the negligent person. Furthermore, punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages in personal injury cases, not in place of them.

Punitive damages are typically only awarded when the defendant was grossly negligent – this means they had to consciously make a decision that put others in harm’s way, rather than just act recklessly. In South Carolina, one common example of claims that often qualify for punitive damages are car accidents caused by drunk drivers.

Juries often use punitive damages as a way to deter others from acting similarly, by making an example out of the negligent party.

How to Get Punitive Damages in South Carolina

To receive punitive damages after a car accident in South Carolina, the injured party will need to pass two requirements.

First, they must qualify for compensatory damages. If they weren’t injured and their car wasn’t damaged, they can’t file for punitive damages, even if the other driver was drunk.

Second, they need to have “clear and convincing” evidence that the defendant’s “willful, wanton, or reckless” behavior caused their injuries, which in the case of drunk driving accidents usually means proving the other party was driving under the influence of alcohol.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that plaintiffs need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the other party was drunk at the time of the accident, as some reckless drivers may refuse to take a Breathalyzer test at the scene or may not receive a test until hours after the accident.

What it does mean is that the jury must be satisfied that it’s more likely than not that the other party was intoxicated and caused the accident.

An experienced car accident attorney can provide evidence that can help prove the other driver in the crash was under the influence of alcohol, such as:

  • Witness testimony
  • Testimony from the responding police officer
  • Analysis of the scene of the crash
  • Reckless driving behavior on the part of the other driver, such as driving at inconsistent speeds or drifting out of their lane
  • The location of the driver before the crash (for example, if they were at a bar or social gathering where alcohol was served)

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated in South Carolina?

While compensatory damages are often easily calculated by tallying up the sum of your medical bills, lost wages, and any other expenses resulting from your accident, punitive damages are more subjective, and are determined by the jury.

The amount of punitive damages you are eligible for can be influenced by:

  • The severity of your injuries
  • Whether the defendant attempted to conceal their behavior (such as by refusing a BAC test)
  • Whether the defendant has displayed similar behavior in the past (do they have past DUIs on their driving record?)
  • Whether the defendant was criminally charged for the same action that caused the injuries (did they receive a DUI for the crash?)
  • Whether the plaintiff was partially responsible for their own injuries (did your actions contribute to the crash in any way?)

Is There a Limit on Punitive Damages in South Carolina?

Some states place a cap on how much money a plaintiff can be awarded in damages.

In South Carolina, punitive damages are limited to $500,000 or three times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

After an Accident Caused By a Drunk Driver, Call Joye Law Firm

Drunk driving is an epidemic in our state. And when drunk drivers cause accidents, the results are often devastating. One 2019 study placed South Carolina as number three for most drunk driving deaths in the nation.

If you or someone you love was injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, you deserve compensation. Contact our firm today to talk through your options, including seeking punitive damages.

About the Author

Since 1968, the South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys of Joye Law Firm have been committed to securing compensation for accident and injury victims. Our compassionate and dedicated lawyers have nearly 250 years of combined litigation experience, and many of them have been recognized as South Carolina Super Lawyers. For many years, our South Carolina personal injury law firm has been listed with an AV rating in the prestigious Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.

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