What Is Modified Comparative Negligence In South Carolina?
Negligence cases in South Carolina, such as personal injury and wrongful death, follow the rule of modified comparative negligence. This essential aspect of this rule has a profound effect on the amount of compensation that a plaintiff may receive. If you are making an injury claim, it’s best to understand what this rule could mean for your case.
SC’s Modified Comparative Negligence Rule
In many negligence cases, there is no single answer to the question “Who caused the accident?” Many factors contribute to it, and each party involved may have contributed to it as well.
“Comparative negligence” is a legal concept that distributes liability based on how much each party was at fault. This includes the plaintiff (the person who is making the claim). In an accident or injury case, if it is found that the plaintiff was partly at fault, he or she could be considered partly liable for the damages. Because of this, the plaintiff’s compensation could be reduced accordingly.
Here is an example: Person A is driving 10 miles over the speed limit. Person B, driving in the wrong lane, collides with Person A head-on. Person A is injured and claims for damages. It may be said that while Person B was 90 percent responsible for the injury, Person A himself (the plaintiff) was 10 percent at-fault because he was speeding. His award is reduced by 10 percent. Therefore, if the jury awards Person A with $100,000, he would receive only $90,000.
There are variations to the comparative negligence doctrine. Some states adhere to the “pure comparative negligence” rule, which distributes liability regardless of the amount of fault from the plaintiff. Even if the plaintiff was 99 percent responsible for his or her own injuries, he or she may still recover the remaining one percent of compensation.
Other states modify this rule by placing a 50 percent limit on the plaintiff’s negligence. Compensation is possible if the plaintiff had only 49 percent of the faultor less. If the plaintiff’s fault was 50 percent or more, he or she can no longer claim damages.
South Carolina’s modified comparative negligence system has a 51 percent bar. This means that compensation is possible if the plaintiff had only 50 percent of the fault or less.If it reaches 51 percent or more, he or she can no longer receive any compensation. The principle behind this limit is that the plaintiff should not be more responsible than the defendant for the injuries.
When Two Or More Parties Are Liable
The modified comparative negligence rule applies even when there are multiple defendants. Each defendant would have to pay the plaintiff according to their own percentage of fault.
There are also cases where the plaintiff names only one defendant, but this defendant is also found to have less than 50 percent of the fault. In this case, other parties that were not named by the plaintiff could also have been responsible for the injury. A South Carolina law called the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act may then apply.
Under this law, a defendant is “jointly and severally liable” for the damages if he or she was 50 percent at-fault or more. Joint and several liability means the defendant would have to pay the whole amount that the plaintiff collects. But if the defendant’s fault was less than 50 percent, he or she can assert the “right of contribution,” or the right to have liability distributed among other contributors of the injury.
Let’s go back to the car accident example above. The plaintiff is hypothetically awarded $100,000, but can collect only $90,000 because he was partially at fault. Now, the defendant is also found to be only 20 percent at fault. He then asserts that he is liable to pay only 20 percent of the $90,000 – that is, $18,000. He could argue that other potential contributors (legally termed “tortfeasors”) are liable to pay the rest of the compensation.
The Uniform Contribution Act and the defendant’s right of contribution can be used as a challenging defense to reduce how much the defendant has to pay. But a knowledgeable and experienced injury lawyer should be able to help you claim the amount you are truly entitled to.
Obtaining The Amount You Deserve
Even though these rules help clarify the proportioning of negligence and liability, much of it is still subjective. Firstly, determining the percentage of fault, including yours, still depends on the opinions of juries, judges, and even claims adjusters.Secondly, each case is greatly influenced by the skills of the lawyers involved, as well as the evidence they use to strengthen their arguments.
As the plaintiff or claimant, you’ll want to obtain as close to your maximum compensation as possible. It is crucial to keep your share of the fault low in the eyes of the jury or the adjuster. Enlist a skilled and experienced attorney to help you establish the amount you deserve and fight for it.
If you have concerns about how South Carolina’s negligence rules affect your claim, or if you need a competent lawyer to handle the case, contact us at Kassel McVey. As one of the state’s most trusted injury law firms, we’re ready to be of service to you. Your initial consultation is completely free. Call us today at (803) 256-4242.
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