In personal injury cases, every person who calls our office has been injured in an accident. Most people are involved in an automobile accident. Others get hurt in motorcycle or truck accidents. But regardless, they all start the conversation with their injuries. This is the “damages” part of their case. Understandably, this is their primary concern when they call. However, before we get to damages, we must first make sure we can prove “liability.”
Liability issues in South Carolina accident cases involve both a “duty” and a “breach” to be compensable. Each of us has a duty to exercise care in how we operate vehicles on the road. We are to drive a safe speed, look out for other drivers, and yield to oncoming traffic. We must also follow all traffic laws, such as stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, not driving drunk, and safely maintaining our cars, trucks, or motorcycles in our own lane. If we do not do these things, we have “breached” our “duty” of due care and can be held liable. Although we often hear the term “accident,” that really is not what happens in car crashes. Every “accident” is the result of bad or poor choices. We have the “choice” to drive safely. When we make the wrong choice, “accidents” happen. It is important to appreciate that bad decisions and unsafe actions is what causes vehicle injuries.
Not all accidents are caused by the fault of only one driver. In many cases, both drivers are partially to blame. If you are sitting in traffic and are rear-ended, that is the sole fault of the driver who hit you. However, in intersection crashes, both drivers could have taken different steps to avoid the accident. The driver who is primarily at fault should not have been speeding or “ran the stop light.” However, the driver who was hit might have looked and anticipated the other driver’s actions and waited for him to pass. In South Carolina, judges or juries have to determine what degree of fault each driver has in an accident and assign a percentage. For example, in a rear-end collision, the “at fault” driver would be 100% negligent. But, in the intersection example, the primary “at fault” driver might be 75% negligent, and the driver who was struck 25% responsible. In those cases, any verdict would be reduced by that percentage. This is called “comparative negligence,” and in South Carolina, we have adopted “modified comparative negligence” for tort cases. This means a plaintiff will recover monetary damages up to 50%. If they are determined to be greater than 50% at fault, there will be no recovery allowed by law. That seems inherently fair. If it is more your fault than the other driver, you probably should not be allowed to collect. In North Carolina, the standard is still “contributory negligence” which means no recovery is permitted if you are at fault at all. This seems inherently unfair to persons injured in accidents when their role is relatively minor.
The last element to be considered in a negligence case is “proximate causation.” This legal term simply means a plaintiff can only recover money for damages proximately caused by the accident. Not all damages are compensable. In serious accident cases, you can seek damages for injury, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and in certain cases, punitive damages. If you require future medical care, you can seek those damages but will have to prove same, usually through a certified “life care planner” who can document what you will need and how much it will cost years from now.
Because we get a lot of calls and questions about how this process works, we hope this brief outline of the initial issues will help you understand what you are facing. If you are involved in a serious personal injury case, you should consider retaining an experienced accident attorney who can help guide you through the legal maze. Let them worry about the law. You just worry about healing and recovering from your injuries. Carefully review and compare different lawyers’ actual credentials and experience. If you would like to sit down and tell us about your case, we would be honored to meet with you. For more information about our firm and lawyers, please call us at 803-554-4157. Be Safe. Get Home.