What Is The Difference Between Punitive And Compensatory Damages In South Carolina?
If you are seeking payment after getting injured by someone’s actions, you’ve probably encountered the terms “compensatory damages” and “punitive damages”. These are two different types of damages you may receive from the defendant.
Put simply, compensatory damages mean to pay you for your losses such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. On the other hand, punitive damages are paid to you not as a form of compensation but as a form of punishment for the defendant. Here is an overview of the characteristics and differences between these two types of damages.
Compensatory Damages In South Carolina
Compensatory damages are also called “actual damages” because they compensate the real losses you incurred due to another person’s actions. You may be compensated for both your economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses are those that have a definite monetary value, such as:
- Hospital and medical bills past and future
- Relevant transportation expenses and housing modifications
- Rehabilitation or therapy costs
- Lost income
- Lost ability to earn in the future.
Meanwhile, non-economic losses are less tangible. They may not have a dollar amount but they could be assigned a monetary value. Examples are:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental distress
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium or companionship (in the case of a loved one’s wrongful death)
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
These are only some examples. You can explore many forms of losses, both economic and non-economic, for which you may receive compensation. Discussing this with an accident attorney is the best way you can determine the maximum amount of compensatory damages you may be entitled to.
Punitive Damages In South Carolina
In some injury cases, it is found that the at-fault party (defendant) displayed exceptionally harmful behavior that caused injury to others. In such a case, a jury may decide that the defendant should pay punitive damages to the victims. This is a form of punishment for the defendant and a way of deterring other people from harmful conduct. For some injured victims, punitive damages are also a way to augment their compensation.
Most personal injury cases in SC allow you to claim for punitive damages. However, note the following when deciding to pursue these damages:
- Punitive damages in SC are never awarded by themselves. You must first be awarded actual damages before you can pursue these.
- Punitive damages are not automatic; you must request them from the court. In your initial complaint filed with the court, you can include your claim for punitive damages, though you don’t have to specify a definite amount.
- Only extraordinarily harmful behavior is punished with punitive damages. This punishment does not apply to defendants who were merely careless – like a car driver who was momentarily distracted, for example. The defendant’s action must have been reckless, willful, or outrageously negligent for punitive damages to apply.
- Punitive damages are a matter of civil law, meaning that they are paid to you in a civil case and not a criminal case. In this sense, punitive damages are a punishment for those who have acted wrongly but whose conduct is not covered by criminal law.
- There are caps or limits on the punitive damages you may be paid in South Carolina. The general maximum limit is either three times your compensatory damages amount or $500,000 – whichever is greater. However, there are very specific exceptions to this. For instance, if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they injured you, your punitive damages would not be capped at all.
Like compensatory damages, there are legal standards in determining punitive damages. You must prove to a jury that the defendant’s action was bad enough to warrant this punishment. You must also prove the defendant’s conduct was reckless by a clear and convincing standard and not simply by the preponderance of the evidence. You’ll want the help of a skilled lawyer to establish this.
In sum, if you wish to receive the maximum award you could get for your case, or if you simply want to know how much you could receive, consult with an injury attorney. You can talk to our lawyers at Kassel McVey, as they are well-versed in South Carolina law and are experienced in obtaining favorable results for clients.
You don’t have to spend a dollar – your initial consultation with us is free. Call us today at (803) 256-4242.
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