If you’ve been injured in an accident, you’re likely dealing with pain, medical bills, and missed time at work. On top of all that, you’re probably wondering if a civil lawsuit is an option for you.
To reduce some of your anxiety, here are some brief answers to frequently asked questions about personal injury lawsuits in South Carolina.
A personal injury lawsuit (sometimes called a “tort lawsuit”) is a civil (not criminal) lawsuit filed when one person suffers physical or mental harm as a result of someone else’s actions or inactions.
The person filing the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff” and the person being sued is called the “defendant.”
Common sources of personal injury lawsuits include:
A personal injury lawsuit officially begins when you file and serve the following legal documents:
Once the summons and complaint are filed and served, the defendant will have an opportunity to respond. The court will then issue a “scheduling order,” setting forth the important steps and deadlines of the litigation process.
Most personal injury cases in South Carolina 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 $10 or $10 million in damages.
The statute of limitations refers to the law that sets forth the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit.
It’s important that you know the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit because once the time runs out you’re permanently barred from filing your lawsuit and recovering damages.
There are some exceptions to the 3-year statute of limitations.
For example, if the plaintiff is suing the government, the plaintiff has 2 years to file a lawsuit (although it can be extended to 3 years if they file a verified petition within 1 year). Additionally, if the injured person is a minor (such as in the case of a birth injury case), the limitation period will be extended until 1 year after they turn 18.
Most personal injury cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. Under this legal theory, a person is liable if they fail to meet the appropriate standard of care. For example, drivers are required to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road. If a driver fails to exercise reasonable care (by, for example, running a red light), they will be held liable for any damages that result.
Although negligence is the most common legal theory in personal injury cases, it’s not the only legal theory.
A personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina may also be based on:
There is no legal requirement that you retain an attorney. Most plaintiffs in small claims court don’t have an attorney. On the other hand, most plaintiffs in all other courts are represented.
Whether or not you need an attorney is a personal decision. With that being said, it’s generally a good idea to hire an attorney if any of the following are true:
Keep in mind that most initial consultations are free. So you can meet with an attorney to discuss your case and help decide whether you need an attorney without incurring any costs (other than your time).
Personal injury lawsuits can last for years. As a result, it’s important to hire an attorney who is competent but also one who you can get along with.
Ask your family members, friends, and colleagues for recommendations. If you're active in a social organization, you might also consider asking the other members.
If no one in your social circle can recommend a lawyer, you’ll need to turn to online directories. There was a time when every lawyer was listed in the yellow pages. For the most part, those days are long gone. Today, online legal directories have replaced the yellow pages. You can find one free online directory right here on Enjuris!
Most (but not all) lawyers charge a contingent fee in South Carolina civil cases. A contingent fee is an arrangement where the lawyer’s fee is based on a percentage of the recovery. If there’s no recovery, the client doesn’t owe an attorney fee (though there may be charges for certain expenses, such as filing fees and court reporter fees).
If no specific agreement is made between the attorney and client, the law assumes that the attorney is entitled to a “reasonable fee.” The court will consider the following factors when determining what’s reasonable:
If you can’t afford an attorney, the Legal Aid Services organization nearest you may provide free legal services if you meet certain income-based requirements.
Plaintiffs in South Carolina personal injury cases can recover the following types of damages:
Unfortunately for plaintiffs, most states have damage caps that limit the amount of damages they can recover in a personal injury case.
In South Carolina, the following types of damage caps apply:
Many plaintiffs wrongly assume that if they are partially at fault for the accident, they can’t recover any damages.
South Carolina follows the modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by their percentage of fault. However, if the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.