The likelihood of you getting into a car accident at some point in your life is higher than you might think. While you hope to walk away from any injuries, your vehicle might not be so lucky. Whether you suffer bodily injury or just property damage because of an auto accident, you have legal rights against the driver who was at fault. The South Carolina car accident attorneys at HawkLaw, P.A. have extensive experience representing motor vehicle accident victims. They will help you understand the complexity of auto insurance claims and how liability applies under South Carolina law to your car accident case.
What Is the Statute of Limitations in South Carolina for a Car Accident?
South Carolina sets a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations:
- You have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit seeking to hold an at-fault driver liable for your injuries.
- If a loved one dies as a result of a car crash caused by someone else, you have three years from the date they died to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Does Liable Mean in Legal Terms?
“Liability” refers to a person’s legal responsibility for an accident or action. South Carolina law recognizes two main kinds of liability:
- Criminal liability results from a conviction for a criminal offense, which could lead to a fine, imprisonment, and other punishments.
- Civil liability may result from an action or a failure to act in a wide range of circumstances. A person may be civilly liable for a car accident, for example, if their failure to use appropriate caution while driving caused the action. They could be obligated to pay monetary damages to the accident victims or their families.
Types of Insurance Coverage for Motorists
Every driver who operates a vehicle on South Carolina roads must have car insurance. Insurance companies offer several different types of insurance, but South Carolina law only requires drivers to purchase liability and uninsured motorist coverage.
All driver’s insurance policies in South Carolina must include liability coverage. When a driver is legally at fault for an accident, their insurance company is supposed to pay damages to people who suffered injuries and property damage, and to the families of anyone killed in the accident. That said, insurance providers know many ways to avoid paying car accident claims. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help navigate the injury claim process.
A car insurance policy must include liability coverage for both bodily injury and property damage. South Carolina law sets minimum amounts of insurance coverage for each of these:
- Bodily injury: $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
- Property damage: $25,000 per accident
These numbers, known as the policy or coverage limits, represent the maximum amount that an insurance provider will pay for a single accident. Using the minimum bodily injury coverage limits, a person may recover up to $25,000, but the total amount paid for all injuries in the same accident will not exceed $50,000. If three people each suffered $25,000 in damages, they would not all be able to recover the full amount of damages from that insurance policy.
Standard liability insurance covers drivers and passengers in other vehicles, as well as pedestrians and bystanders when the policyholder causes an accident. If the at-fault driver does not have insurance coverage, the accident victims might have no other recourse.
South Carolina law, therefore, requires drivers to have uninsured motorist coverage as part of their auto insurance policies in the same 25/50/25 amounts as their liability coverage. This type of insurance protects the policyholder and any passengers in their vehicle.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, also known as Medical Pay or MedPay in South Carolina, provides extra coverage to a policyholder for injuries suffered in an accident no matter who was at fault. A driver who caused an accident and another driver could each recover compensation from their own PIP coverage. The damages it provides are limited to medical bills.
State law does not require drivers to carry PIP insurance, but PIP has several distinct benefits. In addition to the availability of PIP regardless of fault, South Carolina law does not allow insurance companies to deduct PIP benefits from the amount you can recover from an at-fault driver’s liability coverage. Suppose your total damages from a car accident are $25,000, with medical bills accounting for $15,000. You can recover your medical bills from your PIP coverage, and then also claim that amount from the other driver’s insurance company.
The minimum coverage amount required by South Carolina law might not be enough for serious injuries or major property damage. Underinsured motorist coverage provides supplemental coverage in case an at-fault driver’s insurance is not enough. For example, if an accident victim has $30,000 in damages, and the at-fault driver’s insurance has a maximum payout of $25,000 per victim, underinsured motorist coverage could pay the remaining $5,000. State law requires auto insurance providers to offer this type of coverage, but does not require drivers to carry it.
How Is Liability Determined in a South Carolina Car Accident?
South Carolina is a “fault” state, meaning that holding a driver liable for damages after an accident requires proof that they were at fault. The process of determining liability in a car accident case usually begins after the police complete their investigation. They will issue a police report that includes the officers’ opinion as to who was at fault in the accident. The report may show the negligence of one of the drivers, such as running a red light, speeding, or drunk driving.
Once someone has filed an insurance claim, the insurance company will assign one or more investigators. They will also prepare a report that assesses fault. Insurance adjusters usually assign a percentage of fault to the drivers during their analysis of the claim.
Neither the police report nor an insurance report provides definitive proof of anyone’s liability. Only a court can issue a legally-binding conclusion that someone was at fault in an accident. Most personal injury claims settle before the accident victim files a lawsuit. They reach an agreement with an insurance company, in which the insurance company agrees to pay a certain amount in exchange for a waiver of the right to file a lawsuit.
If a car accident case turns into a lawsuit, the accident victim, as the plaintiff, has the burden of proving that the defendant was legally negligent. In most South Carolina car accident cases, establishing negligence involves proving all four of the following points:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, such as the duty to drive safely.
- The defendant breached this duty, such as by not paying attention to the road.
- This breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages.
A plaintiff has a lesser burden of proof if they can show that the defendant was breaking the law, such as by driving while intoxicated, when the accident occurred. The defendant’s illegal action can prove liability on its own. South Carolina law calls this negligence per se.
What is Comparative Negligence in South Carolina?
South Carolina uses the “comparative negligence” or “comparative fault” rule in personal injury claims. This rule allows an accident victim who was partly at fault for the accident to recover damages, as long as their share of the total fault was less than fifty percent. The court will reduce a plaintiff’s total damage award by the percentage of fault attributed to them.
Suppose, for example, that a jury finds that a plaintiff was one-fourth at fault for a car accident, while the defendant was three-fourths at fault. It also finds that the plaintiff’s total damages are $100,000. The court will reduce the award by one-fourth to $75,000.
Is the Registered Owner of a Car Liable for an Accident in South Carolina?
Insurance coverage in South Carolina attaches to vehicles and their drivers. If you loan your car to someone, and that person causes an accident while driving it, you are not personally liable for the damages. Your insurance will, however, provide the primary coverage for any accident victims. The driver’s insurance provides secondary coverage if the victim’s damages exceed your policy’s coverage limits.
The above rules only apply if you gave someone permission to drive your car. If the driver did not have your permission, neither you nor your insurance company has any responsibility. This mainly applies to accidents caused by car thieves. Family members, such as a spouse, may use your vehicle without needing your express permission each time.
Your liability coverage will apply if:
- A family member is driving your vehicle;
- Someone else is driving your vehicle with your permission; or
- You get into an accident in a rental car.
Your own liability insurance does not cover your injuries or vehicle damage. It only covers injuries and property damage suffered by other people if you were at fault. If you are involved in a car accident in South Carolina and no one else’s coverage is available, you will have to make a claim on your own PIP or uninsured motorist coverage.
Seeking Compensation for a Car Accident in South Carolina?
If you have suffered injuries in a car accident, you need to act quickly to make sure you can assert your legal right to compensation. HawkLaw advocates for accident victims in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Spartanburg, and throughout South Carolina. To request a free* consultation, call 888-HAWKLAW or complete the online contact form to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer at HawkLaw today.