Where can you file your personal injury lawsuit in the Palmetto State?
Choosing to file a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina is a big decision, but it quickly leads to another equally important decision:
Which court is the right court for your claim?
In this article, we’ll look at your options and help you determine where to file your personal injury lawsuit.
Small claims court (magistrate court)
A “small claims court” is a court that has jurisdiction over claims that don’t exceed a certain dollar amount. In South Carolina, small claims courts are called “magistrate courts.”
Magistrate courts only have jurisdiction over cases in which the amount in controversy (the amount of damages you’re claiming) does not exceed $7,500.
Should you file your personal injury lawsuit in a magistrate court?
Assuming the amount of damages you’re seeking doesn’t exceed $7,500, there are several advantages to filing a lawsuit in a magistrate court:
- It’s less expensive than other courts (the filing fee is generally less expensive and you don’t need to hire a lawyer)
- The proceedings are informal (the parties aren’t usually represented by lawyers and the court rules are simpler)
- The cases are decided more quickly than in other courts
South Carolina magistrate court resources
State trial court (circuit court)
Most personal injury lawsuits are filed in state-level trial courts. In South Carolina, the state-level trial courts are called “circuit courts.”
Circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning they can hear any type of case. There are no damage restrictions, so you can file a lawsuit in circuit court whether you’re claiming $500 or $5 million in damages.
South Carolina is divided into 16 judicial circuits. Circuit judges serve the 16 circuits on a rotating basis. The South Carolina Constitution requires that every circuit court judge has a minimum of 8 years of experience as a licensed lawyer in South Carolina. Judges are elected by the legislature for 6-year terms.
South Carolina’s 16 judicial circuits
- 1st Circuit – Calhoun, Orangeburg, Dorchester
- 2nd Circuit – Aiken, Barnwell, Bamberg
- 3rd Circuit – Lee, Sumter, Clarendon, Williamsburg
- 4th Circuit – Dillon, Chesterfield, Darlington, Marlboro
- 5th Circuit – Kershaw, Richland
- 6th Circuit – Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster
- 7th Circuit – Cherokee, Spartanburg
- 8th Circuit – Abbeville, Newberry, Laurens, Greenwood
- 9th Circuit – Berkeley, Charleston
- 10th Circuit – Oconee, Anderson
- 11th Circuit – McCormick, Edgefield, Lexington, Saluda
- 12th Circuit – Florence, Marion
- 13th Circuit – Pickens, Greenville
- 14th Circuit – Allendale, Colleton, Hampton, Beaufort, Jasper
- 15th Circuit – Georgetown, Horry
- 16th Circuit – York, Union
Should you file your personal injury lawsuit in a circuit court?
If you’re seeking more than $7,500 in damages and your lawsuit doesn’t involve a federal law (more on that in the section below), you’ll need to file your lawsuit in a circuit court.
What’s more, you may want to file your lawsuit in a circuit court even if you’re seeking less than $7,5000 in damages.
Here are some things about South Carolina circuit courts to keep in mind:
- Unlike magistrate courts, most parties are represented by attorneys (though you’re allowed to represent yourself if you choose)
- The proceedings are formal (the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and the South Carolina Rules of Evidence are strictly applied)
- The cases generally take longer to resolve than in magistrate courts
South Carolina circuit court resources
Federal court (district court)
The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina is the federal court for the state of South Carolina.
The federal court can ONLY hear 2 types of cases:
- Cases that involve a violation of the U.S. Constitution or federal law
- Cases in which there’s complete diversity
Your personal injury case might involve a violation of the U.S. Constitution or federal law, but it’s more likely that it has complete diversity.
Complete diversity exists when:
- The plaintiff lives in a different state than the defendant, and
- The case in controversy (the total amount of damages claimed) is more than $75,000.
Just because you can file your lawsuit in federal court, doesn’t mean it’s required. Whether or not you file in federal court is a strategic decision made by your lawyer based on the specifics of your case.
South Carolina federal court resources
Appellate court (Court of Appeals and Supreme Court)
If you don’t agree with the circuit court’s decision, you can file an appeal. Most appeals will be heard by the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals consists of a chief judge and 8 associate judges. The judges can hear appeals in any county in the state.
The South Carolina Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 4 association justices. It’s rare that you’d find yourself in the Supreme Court, as the Supreme Court generally only hears appeals that involve:
- Public utility rates
- Constitutional issues
- Public bond issues
- Election laws
- An order limiting the investigating by a state grand jury
- An order issued by a family court relating to an abortion by a minor
Choosing a venue for your personal injury case
Once you’ve figured out the appropriate court system, you might assume that you simply file your lawsuit in the court closest to where you live. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
In most personal injury lawsuits, you must file your lawsuit:
- In the county where the defendant lives, or
- In the county where the accident occurred.
Let’s look at an example:
In the above example, Jonathan can’t file his lawsuit in magistrate court because he’s seeking more than $7,500 in damages. What’s more, he can’t file his lawsuit in federal court because it doesn’t involve federal law and there’s not complete diversity.
Jonathan will have to file his lawsuit in circuit court.
But which circuit court?
Jonathan can file his lawsuit in Lexington County (11th Judicial Circuit Court) because the accident occurred in Lexington County. Alternatively, he can file his lawsuit in Jasper County (14th Judicial Circuit Court) because it’s where the defendant lives. He cannot file his lawsuit in Oconee County (10th Judicial Circuit Court) where he lives.
What about workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation claims are completely different from personal injury lawsuits. In most cases, your employer will file your workers’ compensation claim with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Claims Department.
If you end up appealing the commission’s decision, you’ll likely file your appeal with the circuit court or the court of appeals.