According to the 2020 edition of the South Carolina Traffic Collision Fact Book, road fatalities in the state went up from 828 in 2011 to 1,066 in 2020. However, overall road accident incidences, serious injuries, and vehicle miles traveled declined during the same period.
The fact book also indicated that Greenville County had the most traffic collisions in the state, logging 13,740 cases. These included 3,150 incidents resulting in injuries and 72 involving fatalities. The county initiated a traffic education program for motorists who had committed minor infractions to improve public safety on its streets. Its largest city, Greenville, has adopted a traffic calming method that involves the construction of medians, speed humps, and traffic circles.
Across the state, 805 fatal crashes occurred in 2021, killing 863 people, according to a South Carolina Department of Public Safety report. This translates to an increase of 99 crashes and 97 deaths from the previous year. Additionally, the majority of fatal collisions in the state in 2020 — accounting for 82.47% of the total number — were mainly caused by drivers. Hence, every motorist must learn about motor vehicle rules, licensing and registration requirements, and automobile manufacturing standards as stated in Title 56 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.
Learning about one’s legal rights after incurring damages due to a car accident is also important. Under state law, injured plaintiffs in South Carolina can seek compensation from at-fault parties and insurance companies.
South Carolina Distracted Driving Law
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2020. Additionally, a study by SmartAsset.com found that distracted driving kills more than eight people and injures another 1,095 every day across the country.
To prevent injuries and death due to distracted driving, South Carolina prohibits the use of electronic communication devices like smartphones and laptops to compose, send, or read a text-based message while driving on a public street or highway. Violating the state's distracted driving law is a primary offense, and violators face a fine of up to $25.
South Carolina Impaired Driving Law
According to an August 2022 online survey by Forbes Advisor, South Carolina ranks seventh among the worst states for drunk driving. The survey also noted that 289.6 DUIs were issued for every 100,000 licensed drivers. Furthermore, drunk drivers were responsible for 29.6% of all deaths in the state in 2020.
South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-2930 makes it illegal for a driver to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Driving under the influence is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Additionally, a BAC of at least 0.05% may be used with other evidence to infer that a person is under the influence.
If you are convicted of DUI for the first time, you face a fine of up to $400 (or $992 with assessments and surcharges) or imprisonment for 48 hours to 30 days, as well as a six-month suspension of your driver's license. For a second offense, a fine of $2,100 to $5,100 (or $10,744.50 with assessments and surcharges), imprisonment for five days to one year, and a one-year driver's license suspension are imposed. Offenders may face criminal charges or be required to enroll in a drug or alcohol treatment program. Following a conviction, they have the option to enter a guilty or nolo contendere plea.
South Carolina Speed Limit Law
South Carolina imposes basic speeding regulations and rules on maximum or absolute speed limits on its roads. Driving too fast for the current condition is considered a criminal traffic offense under S.C. Code 56-5-1520, even if a driver was not exceeding the posted speed limit. This traffic offense led to 9,246 collisions resulting in injuries and 205 crashes involving fatalities in the state in 2020.
The basic speeding law prohibits driving faster than is reasonable and prudent under existing road conditions. It also requires motorists to consider actual and potential roadway hazards. The maximum speed restrictions in South Carolina — which are stricter for certain vehicles — are straightforward, and drivers who exceed the maximum speed limit may be penalized with a speeding ticket.
The speed limits set by state law in various traffic zones include the following:
Residential areas and business districts
Two-lane roads and four-lane bypasses
Four-lane arterials and urban interstates
You may face reckless driving charges if you go 25 mph over the posted speed limit. Reckless driving, according to the South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-2920, involves operating a vehicle while deliberately disregarding the safety of people and properties. Even for first-time offenders, reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor with harsher penalties than a speeding ticket.
South Carolina Dram Shop Law
Dram shop liability may apply to an establishment — such as a bar or liquor store — that serves alcohol to an intoxicated person or sells alcohol to a minor who then drives drunk and causes an accident that harms another person. Even though the state does not have a dram shop law, South Carolina Supreme Court decisions have recognized dram shop claims over the years. In addition, the state grants a social host liability claim if a guest is under 21. Because dram shop and social host liability lawsuits are considered civil claims, the defendants' liability is expressed primarily in monetary terms.
South Carolina Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements
Fatal car accidents in South Carolina are rising, and adequate insurance coverage is more vital than ever. The state's tort system covers bodily injury, property damage, and uninsured motorist liability. Consequently, every auto liability policy must cover the circumstances mentioned above caused by the negligent use or ownership of a vehicle.
South Carolina requires drivers to carry a minimum of $25,000 in bodily injury coverage per person and $50,000 for all people injured in a single collision. Medical bills, pain and suffering, and loss of wages may be included in bodily injury claims. Property damage liability insurance reimburses drivers for any damage they may cause to the property of others. This covers not just other cars but also walls, buildings, and equipment. The minimum limit for all property damage in a single accident is $25,000.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages pay for one’s own medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering in the case of an accident involving an uninsured/underinsured driver or a hit-and-run situation. If you have been injured while driving your own car and need to use your uninsured motorist coverage, you may be able to stack your policies if you have multiple vehicles.
Liability insurance also covers lawsuits if another party sues a policyholder since insurers are required to provide a lawyer to represent negligent drivers. However, policies do not usually specify how much carriers must pay for the legal defense. If there is a settlement or conviction, insurance companies pay up to the policy amount, with the defendant paying the difference in case the court verdict or settlement exceeds their policy limits.
There are also optional insurance coverages available for drivers. These include Med-Pay and Personal Injury Protection, which pay for the medical expenses of injured drivers who have no health insurance, regardless of who was at fault. Another is collision coverage, which compensates for physical damage to vehicles due to a crash with an object such as a tree or another vehicle. Comprehensive coverage pays for car damage caused by other factors, such as fire, severe weather, and theft.
The Legal Obligations of Drivers After a Car Crash Under South Carolina Law
The legal obligations of drivers following a car crash are outlined in Chapter 5 of the South Carolina Motor Vehicle Code. Section 56-5-1210 requires motorists who have caused injuries or deaths to stop their cars and remain at the scene of the accident. Under some conditions, they are permitted to leave the scene temporarily to report the incident to the authorities. They must also provide their names, addresses, and vehicle registration numbers to the other party involved or anyone attending the vehicle with which they have collided.
In addition, Section 56-5-1230 requires drivers involved in accidents to assist those who have been harmed. This obligation includes transporting the victims to the hospital or arranging alternative transportation if they need medical care. If police officers do not investigate a collision resulting in injuries, deaths, or total property damage exceeding $1,000, the motorists involved are obligated by law to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 15 days.
If a driver becomes incapacitated, a capable passenger must contact the police as quickly as possible. Similarly, vehicle owners must notify the DMV within five days if their car was involved in an accident while being operated by another person. Drivers who fail to report an accident that causes injury or death to any person may face misdemeanor or felony charges. If found guilty, they face a $100 fine and up to 30 days in prison.
South Carolina Is an At-Fault State for Car Accident Lawsuits
South Carolina uses a modified version of the comparative fault system to decide who is at fault and who should pay for damages in car accident cases. According to South Carolina Code 15-38-15, car accident victims are entitled to compensation if they are proven to be 50% or less at fault for causing their injuries. However, if the court determines that they are 51% or more at fault, all recovery of damages is barred.
This rule was applied in Hopson v. Clary, 321 S.C. 312, 468 S.E.2d 305, in which the South Carolina Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff's fault could not exceed the defendant's liability. Because of the complexity of cases involving numerous at-fault parties, the modified comparative fault system observed in the state has received some criticism. By contrast, the pure comparative fault system allows victims to claim damages even if they are more than 51% at fault.
South Carolina Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents
Every type of legal action is typically subject to a statute of limitations. In South Carolina, injured car accident victims have three years from the date of the crash to seek compensatory damages from at-fault drivers and insurance companies. People who lose a loved one in a car accident also have a similar number of years to file a wrongful death claim from the time of the victim’s death.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in South Carolina
There are many important exceptions to the state's rule about how long you have to file a personal injury case after an auto accident. These exceptions can lengthen the time it takes for injured people to launch a case against the at-fault parties.
One major exception is the discovery rule, which stipulates that a statute of limitations only starts to run on the day a victim discovers their injuries. For plaintiffs who did not seek medical attention after the crash, the statute of limitations would begin to run on the date of the accident.
Another exception applies when the government or a government agency is the defendant in a personal injury claim. According to South Carolina’s Tort Claims Act, the statute of limitations for civil claims against the government is just two years from the date of the accident.
Additionally, victims under the age of 18 and people suffering from insanity or disability are among the few other exceptions that can pause the statute of limitations for car accidents until they are of legal age and their incapacities are removed, respectively.
Average Settlement for South Carolina Car Accident Lawsuits
There is no standard settlement amount for automobile accident lawsuits in South Carolina because every case is different. Some may accept a few thousand dollars, while others may demand millions in compensatory damages.
Each case's value depends on many factors, including the defendant’s percentage of liability. Also considered are economic damages like medical expenses and lost income, as well as non-economic damages such as emotional distress.
In some instances, plaintiffs can also receive compensation in the form of punitive damages. Section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina Code states that punitive damages should not exceed $500,000 or three times the compensatory damage awarded to a claimant. The Office of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs is in charge of figuring out how much punitive damages can be given.
The Cost of Back or Neck Injury in South Carolina
Back and neck injuries are prevalent in car accidents, and their severity varies greatly. The cost to treat these injuries in South Carolina also differs. For broken backs, diagnosis and surgical treatment costs range from $50,000 to $150,000. Herniated disc surgery usually costs between $20,000 and $50,000. Sciatica can cost as much as $500 for home remedies and up to $350 per therapy session. For spinal cord injuries such as paraplegia and low tetraplegia, the average treatment cost ranges from $518,000 to $769,000.
Average Cost of a Car Accident Lawyer in South Carolina
The majority of personal injury attorneys in South Carolina charge on a contingency fee basis. They usually take 33% to 40% of the settlement or jury award they obtain on behalf of car accident victims. If you are the plaintiff in a car accident case, this means your lawyer’s legal fee may range from $33,000 to $38,000 if they manage to obtain a $100,000 award for you.
A contingent fee agreement must be in writing and signed by the client. It must state how the fee will be determined, including the percentage that the lawyer will receive in the event of a settlement, trial, or appeal. It should be noted that contingent fees are governed and limited by applicable laws and the factors relevant to the circumstances that surround a car accident case.
Legal Resources for South Carolina Car Accident Victims
South Carolina Department of Public Safety
This agency protects South Carolina citizens and promotes highway safety through the enforcement of laws governing traffic and motor vehicles. If you have inquiries or need assistance, its divisions can be contacted at the following numbers:
Highway Patrol - 803-896-7920
State Transport Police - 803-896-5500
Bureau of Protective Services - 803-896-5442
South Carolina Driver's Manual
This handbook explains the state’s rules of the road and what the law expects from motorists when they drive. Its goal is to teach readers about traffic control devices, signs, and pavement markings before they drive on the highway.
The South Carolina DMV
The department is in charge of enforcing the state's motor vehicle licensing and titling laws. It observes strict controls to secure and maintain the validity of identification, licenses, and property records. To best serve South Carolina citizens, it also accounts for the receipt and timely distribution of collected revenue. You can get in touch with the agency through its website.
South Carolina Department of Insurance
It is an agency of the Governor’s Cabinet whose mission is to protect consumers, the public interest, and the insurance industry. The department ensures the solvency of insurers through the implementation of the state’s insurance laws and industry-specific regulations. It can be reached at 803-737-6160 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
South Carolina Bar
The South Carolina Bar Association provides public programs to connect volunteer attorneys with their communities in a learning environment. The association has partnered with public libraries across the state to conduct free legal education events led by a licensed attorney or judge. Its Law Talk program discusses several topics, including personal injury, criminal law, and wills and estates.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This agency is part of the country’s Department of Transportation. Its mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce the economic costs of road traffic accidents through education, safety standards, and enforcement. The agency's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system is focused on giving urgent care and stabilizing serious injuries before they get to the hospital, as well as getting them to a better place of care. The Office of EMS also handles plans for the implementation of Next Generation 911.
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