What does negligence mean in the context of a motorcycle accident or other personal injury case in SC?
Negligence is the most common way to prove the other driver’s liability for the crash – if the other driver was negligent, then they are responsible for the damages that were caused by their negligence…
Below, we will cover the basics of the law of negligence in SC’s civil courts, including a discussion of:
- What negligence means,
- How to prove negligence,
- Negligence per se, and
- Comparative negligence in SC.
What Does Negligence Mean?
How do you know if you have a case after a motorcycle crash or other accident?
First, you must be able to prove that the other driver (or responsible party in the accident) is liable for your injuries. Proof of “simple” negligence is enough to establish liability, although you may have other methods of proving liability like gross negligence, strict liability, or intentional conduct.
To establish liability (negligence), you must be able to prove that:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to you (to follow the traffic laws or to keep a lookout for motorcycles, for example),
- They breached their duty of care (by not following the traffic laws or failing to keep a proper lookout, for example), and
- Their acts or omissions were the proximate cause of your injuries.
There are other types of negligence that can be used to establish liability after your motorcycle collision or other accident, however, including strict liability, gross negligence, negligence per se, or intentional conduct.
Gross negligence is “the intentional, conscious failure to do something which one ought to do or the doing of something one ought not to do.” Hollins v. Richland County Sch. Dist. One, 310 S.C. 486, 427 S.E.2d 654 (1993). For example, intentionally disobeying a traffic law is gross negligence, while intentionally causing harm to another is intentional conduct. Either may result in punitive damages against the defendant.
It has also been defined as “the failure to exercise slight care,” Clyburn v. Sumter County Sch. Dist. # 17, 317 S.C. 50, 451 S.E.2d 885 (1994), or when “a person is so indifferent to the consequences of his conduct as not to give slight care to what he is doing.” Jackson v. South Carolina Dep’t of Corrections, 301 S.C. 125, 390 S.E.2d 467 (Ct. App.1989), aff’d, 302 S.C. 519, 397 S.E.2d 377 (1990).
When a defendant’s conduct was more than just simple negligence and rose to the level of gross negligence, the plaintiff may be entitled to recover punitive damages in addition to the ordinary economic and noneconomic damages that resulted from the accident.
How do You Prove Negligence in a Motorcycle Accident or Other Personal Injury Case?
To prove simple negligence, you must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to you and that they breached that duty of care to you. To recover damages, you must also show that their negligence was the proximate cause of the crash and your injuries.
Although the exact method of proving negligence will vary from case to case, some common examples of evidence that may prove negligence include:
- Your testimony about the defendant’s conduct,
- The defendant’s statements,
- Testimony of witnesses to the accident,
- Testimony of police officers who investigated the accident,
- Accident reconstructionists or other experts who can testify as to how the accident happened and the cause of the accident,
- Photos of the damaged vehicles, injuries, or roadway,
- Video footage of the crash from dashcams or nearby businesses or residences,
- Cell phone records of the defendant showing they were using their phone at the time of the crash, or
- Evidence showing that the defendant was drunk at the time of the crash like breathalyzer results, witness testimony, or alcohol receipts from a bar or other establishment.
Negligence Per Se
What is negligence per se in SC?
When a person violates a statute or regulation that is intended to protect the public against the type of injury that resulted, it is called “negligence per se,” and you will no longer need to prove negligence.
SC’s traffic laws, for example, are intended to protect the public from injuries or death due to vehicle collisions. When a driver violates a traffic law by running a stop sign, failing to stop for a pedestrian crosswalk, or driving drunk, for example, they have committed negligence per se.
You will still need to prove 1) the fact of the traffic violation (by a conviction, admission, or witness testimony), 2) that the traffic violation was the proximate cause of the crash, and 3) that you suffered injuries as a result, but you will no longer need to prove the violation of a duty of care.
There is another very important type of negligence in SC’s civil courts – comparative negligence.
The SC Supreme Court adopted a “modified comparative negligence rule” in 1991 in Nelson v. Concrete Supply Company:
For all causes of action arising on or after July 1, 1991, a plaintiff in a negligence action may recover damages if his or her negligence is not greater than that of the defendant. The amount of the plaintiff’s recovery shall be reduced in proportion to the amount of his or her negligence. If there is more than one defendant, the plaintiff’s negligence shall be compared to the combined negligence of all defendants.
In a trial where the defendant produces evidence that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s negligence, the jurors will be asked to assign a percentage of fault to each of the parties. If the plaintiff’s fault is 50% or less, then the court will reduce the plaintiff’s recovery by the percentage of fault that was assigned to them.
If the plaintiff’s fault is more than 50%, however, the plaintiff recovers nothing. This is a bit different than the contributory negligence rule used by NC, where, if a plaintiff is even 1% at fault, they cannot recover any damages.
Note that, in SC, the fact that a plaintiff was riding a motorcycle, or the fact that a plaintiff who is at least 21 years old was not wearing a helmet, is not considered comparative negligence.
Motorcycle Crash and Personal Injury Lawyers in Charleston, SC
The motorcycle accident attorneys at the Boles Law Firm can help you to investigate your crash, gather the evidence you will need in court, negotiate with the insurance companies, and recover the maximum compensation that you are entitled to for your injuries – whether you were wearing a helmet or not.
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.