Understand your rights and responsibilities as a driver in the Palmetto State
In South Carolina, the average car insurance premiums are roughly $160 higher than the national average ($1,495 per year in 2020).
The higher-than-average premiums are due in part to the fact that most of South Carolina’s 3.8 million drivers are under the age of 29 or over the age of 64—considered “high risk” age groups.
Although it may cost you a little more to get behind the wheel in South Carolina than in other states, liability insurance is required.
In this article, we’ll take a look at car insurance laws in the Palmetto State, including the minimum liability requirements, the penalties for driving without insurance, and what happens when you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver.
What’s the difference between a fault-based insurance system and a no-fault insurance system?
Before discussing South Carolina’s insurance requirements, it’s important to understand the difference between a fault-based insurance system and a no-fault insurance system:
- In a state that has a fault-based insurance system, the person responsible for a car accident is responsible for paying any damages caused by the accident.
- In a state that has a no-fault insurance system, each party involved in a car accident makes a claim against their own insurance policy regardless of who’s at fault for the accident.
South Carolina has a fault-based insurance system.
As a result, you have 3 options if you suffer damages in a car accident caused by someone else:
- You can file an insurance claim with your own insurance company (your insurance company will then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company)
- You can file a third-party insurance claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, or
- You can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver.
What’s the minimum amount of car insurance required in South Carolina?
South Carolina law requires that every motor vehicle on the road carry the following insurance:
- Liability insurance for bodily injury. This type of insurance protects you against the claims of other people who are injured in an accident for which you were at fault. South Carolina requires drivers to carry a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 for all persons injured in 1 accident.
- Liability insurance for property damage. This type of insurance pays for any damage you cause to the property (vehicles, buildings, fences, etc.) of others. South Carolina requires drivers to carry a minimum of $25,000 for all property damage in 1 accident.
Insurance companies are NOT obligated to sell you insurance. If you have a lengthy crash history and can’t find a company to insure you, contact the Associated Auto Insurers Plan of South Carolina.
Do I have to insure my motorcycle or moped?
South Carolina’s minimum liability insurance requirements apply to every “self-propelled vehicle” designed for use on a highway. This includes cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
On the other hand, farm tractors, tractor cranes, mopeds, and bicycles do NOT need to be insured.
Can I purchase additional insurance coverage?
It’s important to understand that the minimum liability coverage required by the state of South Carolina doesn’t cover your own injuries or vehicle damage. If you want to protect yourself, you’ll need to purchase additional coverage.
Here are the most common options:
- Collision coverage pays for physical damage to your car as a result of an accident with another car or object. If the cost of repairing your vehicle exceeds its value, insurers will “total” the car and pay you the actual cash value of the vehicle.
- Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle caused by fire, vandalism, flooding, theft, falling objects, collisions with animals, and damage to windshields.
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage pays for injuries or property damage if the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance. This type of coverage can also be used to pay your bills in the event of a hit-and-run where the other driver cannot be located.
What are the penalties for driving without insurance in South Carolina?
If you’re pulled over while driving a vehicle you don’t own without insurance, your driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days and you’ll be required to pay a $100 reinstatement fee.
If you’re pulled over while driving a vehicle you do own without insurance, your license and registration will be suspended and you’ll be required to pay a $550 uninsured motorist fee. Additionally, you’ll be required to submit a Certificate of Insurance (SR-22) annually for 3 years starting with the date of suspension.
The most serious consequence of driving without insurance, however, occurs if you’re involved in an accident. Uninsured drivers are personally liable for any damages they cause. In a serious accident, this could mean you’re on the hook for thousands or even millions of dollars.
Does my insurance company have to defend me if I’m sued by another driver?
Yes. Your liability insurance covers lawsuits, which means your insurance company has a duty to provide a lawyer to represent you (unless you intentionally injure someone in an accident).
If you receive a summons and complaint, notify your insurance company right away. If the case is ultimately settled or there’s a judgment against you, your insurance company will pay up to the policy limits.
What happens if I’m involved in an accident with an uninsured driver?
If you suffer damages as a result of an accident caused by an uninsured driver, you can file a claim under your uninsured motorist policy (assuming you have one).
If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage, you’ll have to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Unfortunately, uninsured drivers often don’t have money to satisfy judgments. Nevertheless, there are certain legal tools (such as wage garnishment) that you can use to collect judgments over time.
What if I’m having a problem with an insurance company?
If you’re having a problem with an insurance company (whether it’s your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company) you have a few options:
- Be persistent. Insurance adjusters are often handling dozens of cases and sometimes it just takes a little persistence to resolve an issue.
- File an insurance complaint. If you’re having an issue with an insurance company, broker, agent, or adjuster, you can file an online complaint with the South Carolina Office of Consumer Services.
- Contact the South Carolina Insurance Fraud Hotline. If you suspect that someone has committed insurance fraud, you can call the South Carolina Insurance Fraud Hotline at 1-888-95-FRAUD or complete the Insurance Fraud Complaint Form online.
- Contact an attorney. If you believe your insurance company is acting in bad faith, you can use our free online directory to contact an attorney to talk about filing a bad-faith lawsuit.
Still have questions? Use the Enjuris Lawyer Directory to schedule an initial consultation with a South Carolina attorney today.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.