How do you get punitive damages in SC?
In some cases where the defendant’s conduct was intentional or grossly negligent, you may be entitled to punitive damages to punish the defendant for reckless, willful, wanton, or malicious conduct.
Punitive damages are also intended to deter similar conduct in the future and to compensate you for a “reckless or willful invasion” of your private rights…
Below, we will discuss SC law on punitive damages, including:
- How you prove punitive damages,
- The factors used in awarding punitive damages,
- SC’s caps on punitive damages, and
- When you can get punitive damages in a civil rights action.
Punitive Damages in SC
Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are designed to punish a defendant for their actions and to deter the defendant or others from similar conduct in the future.
You are entitled to compensatory damages in every case – damages like your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other categories of damages that are intended to compensate you for your losses. Punitive damages, though, are only awarded in some cases.
How do you get punitive damages?
SC Code § 15-33-135 says that punitive damages must be proven by clear and convincing evidence – you must prove that the defendant’s conduct was “willful, wanton, or in reckless disregard” of your rights – this could mean intentional conduct, reckless conduct, or gross negligence in SC.
Factors for Awarding Punitive Damages in SC
SC appellate opinions provide some factors that a jury can consider when deciding whether to award punitive damages, which include:
(1) the character of the defendants acts;
(2) the nature and extent of the harm to plaintiff which defendant caused or intended to cause;
(3) defendants degree of culpability;
(4) the punishment that should be imposed;
(5) duration of the conduct;
(6) defendants awareness or concealment;
(7) the existence of similar past conduct;
(8) likelihood the award will deter the defendant or others from like conduct;
(9) whether the award is reasonably related to the harm likely to result from such conduct; and
(10) defendants wealth or ability to pay.
How much can a jury award in punitive damages? SC law also limits punitive damages with statutory caps…
Caps on Punitive Damages in SC
SC Code § 15-32-530 provides for caps on punitive damages in some cases, and no caps on punitive damages in other cases.
As a starting point, punitive damages are limited to three times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater.
That cap is increased to four times the amount of the compensatory damages or $2 million, whichever is greater, when:
- The defendant’s conduct was motivated by unreasonable financial gain and the defendant knew or should have known that someone would be injured, or
- The “defendant’s actions could subject the defendant to conviction of a felony and that act or course of conduct is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages.”
There is no cap on punitive damages in SC, however, if the court finds that:
- The defendant intended to harm and did harm the plaintiff,
- The defendant has been convicted “of a felony arising out of the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff and that act or course of conduct is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages,” or
- The defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.”
For example, in a DUI/ drunk driving crash case, there are no caps on punitive damages if 1) the defendant is convicted of a felony DUI, or 2) even if they were not convicted if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was under the influence to the degree that they were substantially impaired at the time of the collision.
Similarly, there is no cap on punitive damages when a defendant intentionally causes harm – for example, in a civil claim for assault and battery.
Can You Get Punitive Damages in Civil Rights Cases?
You might be entitled to punitive damages in a civil rights case, depending on the circumstances and how the case is filed.
Under the SC Tort Claims Act, for example, no punitive damages are available, and SC law even limits the actual damages that you can recover to $300,000 for a single occurrence/ single plaintiff, $600,000 for a single occurrence regardless of the number of people injured, or $1,200,000 for a single occurrence regardless of the number of people injured in a medical malpractice case.
In an action for violation of your civil rights under 42 USC § 1983, the federal courts have said that you are entitled to punitive damages “when the defendant’s conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.”
Questions About Punitive Damages in SC?
The Charleston, SC personal injury lawyers at the Boles Law Firm can help you to determine liability, gather the evidence you will need in court, negotiate with insurance companies, and recover the maximum compensation that you are entitled to under state or federal law for your injuries.
Call us at 843-576-5775 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation at our North Charleston or Walterboro offices or send us a message through our website.