Understanding Modified Comparative Negligence in South Carolina

Written by John D. Hawkins on . Posted in .

Since 1991, the case Nelson vs. Concrete Supply Co. 303 S.C. 243, 399 S.E.2d 783 (1991), South Carolina has recognized a modified comparative negligence rule in civil claims. Under the modified comparative negligence rule, an individual will face liability for his or her percentage of liability in an accident claim. The rule ultimately determines the amount of damages a plaintiff may recover for losses.

Understanding Modified Comparative Negligence in South Carolina

In South Carolina, a plaintiff less than 50% at fault for an accident may file a claim against a wrongdoer and receive compensation. However, the jury may reduce the total damages awarded based on the plaintiff’s own percentage of negligence (fault). For instance, let’s say one driver was driving 10 miles over the posted speed limit. Another car going the speed limit fails to maintain the lane due to distracted driving and causes a head on collision with the speeder.

The jury determines the distracted driver caused the accident, but the speeding driver negligence may have exacerbated the resulting injuries. As a result, the jury assigns the speeding driver with 10% fault and the distracted driver with 90%. The jury will then reduce the total damages awarded by 10% to account for the plaintiff’s negligence.

If any driver exceeds 50% fault for an accident, he or she cannot recover damages in a legal claim at all. Interestingly, if the plaintiff and the defendant were equally responsible for the accident, the plaintiff may still recover 50% of the damages awarded.

Multiple Party Liability and Comparative Negligence

In some accident claims, the plaintiff may name more than one defendant. For instance, if someone failed to follow the rules of the road but also drove a faulty vehicle, both the driver and the auto manufacturer may face a percentage of responsibility. In these claims, the plaintiff need only prove that he or she was less than 50% at fault for the accident to recover compensation.

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Before 1991, South Carolina recognized a contributory negligence rule in civil claims. If a plaintiff contributed to an accident even 1%, he or she could not recover damages. Contributory negligence rules set a harsh benchmark for civil claims and offer the defense several strategies to avoid liability. Today, few states operate using a contributory negligence rule (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington DC).

Assigning Fault in Accident Claims

While the rule of modified comparative negligence seems straightforward enough, its application in civil proceedings is complex. During a case, claims adjustors, judges, and juries bear the responsibility of determining fault. A plaintiff’s ability to illustrate the facts of the case and negotiate the final outcome may result in a lower percentage of fault. The rather subjective assignation of fault highlights the importance of evidence in personal injury cases. Information from the scene of the accident, injuries, and liability will all determine who pays and how much.

Factors that Affect Accident Fault

Regardless of the type of accident, investigators may look at weather conditions, inebriation, the time of day, the ages of the plaintiff and defendant, unforeseeable circumstances, and other factors to determine fault. Whether you slip and fall outside of your favorite store in winter or a big rig driver slams into the back of your vehicle at an intersection, every detail of the accident may affect how the courts view liability and comparative negligence.

To protect your right to compensation, speak with a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible. During an independent investigation, your attorney can help you build a case that accurately depicts liability factors in a claim. The ability to accurately retell the circumstances of the accident will improve your ability to recover fair compensation.

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Written By John D. Hawkins


John David Hawkins is the Founder and Owner of HawkLaw. He has been licensed to practice law in South Carolina since his graduation in 1994 from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Focusing on litigation, Mr. Hawkins is experienced handling Worker’s Compensation, Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Administrative Law, and Criminal Law matters.

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