Proving Liability for Slip and Fall Injuries in Clinton
A slip and fall accident is covered under the area of South Carolina civil law known as premises liability, in which a property owner may be held liable in certain situations for injuries that are caused by unsafe property conditions.
A key factor in a premises liability claim is the victim’s legal status as a visitor to the property.
South Carolina state law divides property visitors into three categories:
- Invitees — People who are on a property by the expressed or implied invitation of the owner are owed the highest duty of care. Shoppers in most places of business are considered invitees.
- Licensees — People who are on a property with an owner’s consent but typically for their purposes. A meter reader is a typical example of a licensee.
- Trespassers — People who are unlawfully on a property without the permission of a property owner. Trespassers are typically not owed a duty of care, except in the case of children who may lack the judgment to recognize potential dangers. If the trespasser is a small child, a Clinton property owner has an obligation to secure any “attractive nuisance.”
An attractive nuisance is any object that might appeal to a child too young to understand the dangers involved in its unsupervised use, such as a swimming pool or a trampoline. Property owners can be liable for a child’s injuries that were caused by failure to make an attractive nuisance inaccessible.
When a slip and fall case goes to trial, a premises liability action will require the plaintiff to prove the same four elements:
- Duty of Care — The property owner had an obligation to guests to keep the property in a safe condition or warn them about any hazards.
- Breach of Duty — The property owner breached that duty of care by failing to keep the property in a safe condition or warn guests of any hazards.
- Causation — The breach of duty caused the victim to suffer injuries.
- Damages — The victim’s injuries resulted in damages.
Even if you were partly at fault for causing a slip and fall accident, you may still have a claim. South Carolina is a modified comparative fault state. An individual can pursue damages when their negligence is less than that of the defendant.
A person who is awarded damages will have those damages reduced in proportion to his or her percentage of negligence. An individual who is awarded $100,000 in a slip and fall accident claim, but found to have been 25 percent at fault will have the damages reduced by $25,000 and ultimately receive $75,000.
If a slip and fall case goes to trial and the plaintiff proves his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, compensatory damages could be awarded to the victim. Compensatory damages are typically some combination of economic and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are actual costs a victim has incurred or will incur, while noneconomic damages are more difficult to quantify. Economic damages include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, while noneconomic damages include emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.
In South Carolina, there are no limits on jury awards unless a governmental entity is a defendant. In such cases, an award for an individual claim cannot be more than $300,000, and cases involving multiple plaintiffs cannot exceed $600,000.
In certain premises liability cases, a jury may award punitive damages. South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(A) establishes that punitive damages awards are limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater. The limit can be increased to four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2 million when certain factors apply.
South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(C) establishes that no limit on damages exists when a trial court determines that at the time of the injury, the defendant:
- Had an intent to harm and did harm the victim
- Pled guilty to or was convicted of a felony arising from the act or course of conduct that was the cause of the victim’s damages
- Acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs (except for lawfully prescribed medications).