If you have been injured in an auto accident or due to the wrongdoing of another, a judge or jury may find that you are entitled to compensation under the law. Compensation is determined categorically in the court system, that is, damages can be awarded on either a compensatory or punitive basis. Understanding these terms is crucial before understanding how they can be limited by statutory caps.
Types of Damages in Civil Cases
There are two types of damages in civil actions. The first is called compensatory, or actual, damages. As indicated by the name, this monetary award will be granted when there have been actual monetary expenditures due to the accident or injury that is the subject of the lawsuit. This typically includes medical expenses, future long-term care for disability, reimbursement for lost wages or loss of earning capacity, or emotional pain and suffering. Compensatory damages are granted with considerable certainty—that is, there are bills, estimates, experts testifying as to the possible earning capacity of the injured individual, etc.
Consequently, punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer to deter the person or entity from future similar conduct. Punitive damages are often used to send a message: you won’t get away with this in the future. This is also where the caps come in. Some cases have received negative publicity for “outrageous” punitive damages being awarded, even when the injuries were severe. This is the basis of American tort reform, which has led to many states, including South Carolina, setting damages caps on punitive damages.
A commonly known example is the “hot coffee” case, in which a woman received debilitating burns on her inner thighs from spilling McDonald’s coffee at a temperature significantly higher than what it should have been. Regardless of your opinion of the outcome of the case, what happened with the punitive damages award is perfect for illustrative purposes here. The jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $3 million in punitive damages alone, to show that McDonald’s knew about the hot coffee and did not do anything to fix it. California law, where the lawsuit took place, allows punitive damages only up to three times the amount of the compensatory damages award. The same is true in South Carolina.
If a jury awarded you $100,000 in compensatory damages, you could only receive $300,000 in punitive damages for a total recovery of $400,000. South Carolina law not only caps punitive damages at three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, but also at $500,000. Even a large compensatory damages award would not permit a person to recover any more than $500,000 in punitive damages in South Carolina, according to Section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.
Columbia, South Carolina Personal Injury Attorneys
These laws do indeed place limitations on recovery in large, multi-million dollar cases. Most personal injury lawsuits, however, will not reach anywhere near the amount of the caps, given that most people’s compensatory damages are nowhere near what we see in our daily news stories. If you or anyone you know has been injured due to the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation. Regardless of the nature or extent of your injuries, our personal injury lawyers at Solomon Law Group will make sure you receive the maximum amount of compensation that you are entitled to under South Carolina law. Do not hesitate to contact us at our convenient Columbia, South Carolina office and learn more about your legal rights today.