Get Answers to These FAQs We Hear the Most
We know how many questions you must have right now about your personal injury or workers' comp case, so we compiled this list of the questions we hear the most. If you have a question that is not answered here, please call our Columbia law office to speak with Kenneth Berger.
- Page 1
What are punitive damages and how are they determined?
In any personal injury lawsuit in civil court, there are three types of potential damage awards available. Economic damages are compensation for the actual costs related to the accident and are relatively easy to quantify by adding up the costs of bills and other expenses. Non-economic damages are compensation for other losses, such as pain and suffering and other less-easily defined losses. Together, these are called compensatory damages.
The third type of damage award is for punitive damages. It is a topic that deserves discussion apart from the other types of damages due to the special circumstances required to be awarded this type of compensation, especially when it comes to punitive damages in a DUI case.
Punitive Damages in South Carolina
For punitive damages to be considered in a South Carolina court, they must be specifically requested in the initial complaint, and victims must provide “clear and convincing” evidence that reckless behavior was involved. Reckless behavior means that the responsible party acted with a willful disregard for the safety of others. Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is a prime example of reckless behavior for which punitive damages may be justified.
Punitive damages are so-named because they are intended to not only punish the perpetrator financially for their bad actions, but also to provide an example to society as a whole to discourage similar behavior in others in the future. Punitive damages are not intended as the primary means of compensation, though they are a financial award; instead, they are an additional amount that goes to the victim on top of any compensatory damages already awarded.
South Carolina caps punitive damage awards at either $500,000 or three times the total amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. However, three notable exceptions to this cap occur when:
- There was an intent to cause harm.
- A conviction or guilty plea for a felony was involved.
- The person was “substantially impaired” by drug or alcohol use at the time of the incident.
With a claim for punitive damages included in a lawsuit, it is likely that the trial will be split into two parts. The first half will address claims for compensatory damages. If that case is successful, the second half will address claims for punitive damages, and the victim will have to provide stronger evidence to support his or her case for the additional award.
An Injury Lawyer Can Help You Seek Punitive Damages
Making a case for punitive damages is a complex legal process, and a successful claim can be nearly impossible without the assistance of an attorney who is well-versed in this special area of civil case law. Seeking help from an experienced personal injury attorney can ensure that your legal rights are protected and help you maximize your potential compensation after an accident.
The attorneys at the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger are here to represent victims of DUI crashes and their families, providing legal support and service when you need it most. To speak with one of our experienced legal professionals about your accident situation, please call us by phone at 803-790-2800 or click the live chat box on this page right now and arrange a free consultation today.
What damages can I recover after being hit by a drunk driver in South Carolina?
If you have been hurt in an accident caused by a drunk driver, a civil lawsuit is how you and your family can start the financial recovery process. Though the driver may have been carried away in handcuffs, the criminal charges will only punish the person who caused the accident in the only way that the criminal justice system knows how: with jail time, fines and fees to the state, loss of driving privileges, and so on.
The criminal system will not, however, compensate you and your loved ones for the costs of the accident. A personal injury lawsuit in civil court is how you seek repayment, in the form of legal damages. Here are the types of damage awards frequently seen in DUI accident cases.
Economic damages are the fundamental costs of a car accident that can be tallied up by looking at the real costs. This type of damage award may include repayment for:
- Vehicle repair or replacement
- Emergency treatment, hospitalization, follow-up care, and other medical expenses
- Lost wages due to time away from work
- Loss of future earnings due to an inability to perform the same work
This type of damage award is not as easily quantified as economic damages, but it can be just as important to the financial recovery process. Non-economic damages may include:
- Pain caused by your injuries
- Mental suffering, anguish, or emotional distress
- Damage to your reputation
- Aggravation of old injuries
Punitive Damages After a Drunk Driving Accident
In some cases, the behavior of the defendant was so despicable that the court may decide to award punitive damages. This type of award is rare, and it is designed to not only punish the guilty party, but also to use the guilty party as an example to discourage other people from committing the same offense. Though it is difficult to obtain punitive damages, an experienced personal injury lawyer can pursue punitive damages by proving that the drunk driver showed conscious disregard for the safety of other South Carolinians when he chose to drive on our roadways after drinking alcohol.
Contact a South Carolina DUI Accident Lawyer
If you or your loved one have been seriously hurt by a drunk driver, you have our deepest sympathies. At the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger, we work hard to help our community by representing those who have been injured in accidents caused by negligence or recklessness, and we are here to help you and your family when you need legal support. Reach out to us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page to set up a free consultation with us and see how we can help your family begin the recovery process today.
How long do I have to file a DUI accident lawsuit?
In the field of law, certain time limits dictate how long a legal action can be brought against someone. This is known as a “statute of limitations” and is a part of the legal system in every state, including South Carolina. The rules change from state to state, as the legislature in each state determines what the rules are.
Very few states, like South Carolina, have no statutes of limitation on criminal acts. But every state, including South Carolina, has a statute of limitations for civil claims, such as a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death claim.
Why Statutes of Limitations Matter
The statute of limitations is an important part of the justice system because it serves to protect the rights of the accused. As time passes, most forms of evidence degrade, so a time limit helps ensure that evidence is fresh, and the case can be tried with the most accurate facts that are available. The time limit also helps ensure that potential defendants aren’t faced with the threat of a lawsuit forever.
Time Limits for Personal Injury Suits in South Carolina
The amount of time that an injured person has to file a civil action varies depending on the type of claim. For a DUI accident personal injury lawsuit, typically the time limit to make a legal claim in South Carolina is three years from the date of the injury. Similarly, surviving family members of those who have been killed have three years from the date of death to make a wrongful death claim in court.
Statutes of limitations are complicated and there are exceptions, but once the time limit is over, victims are almost never able to recover damages. Even if you’re not sure that you have a case, contacting a personal injury attorney sooner rather than later can ensure that your legal right to pursue compensation in a court of law is protected.
Get Legal Help After a DUI Accident
If you have been injured or lost a loved one due to a drunk driver, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth E. Berger are here for you. We believe in protecting the legal rights of those who have been harmed, and we want to help you and your family begin the recovery process today.
To talk about your situation with an experienced, caring legal professional, call us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or start a chat with us now to arrange a free consultation at our office. We can also make arrangements to visit you if mobility is a problem after your accident, so reach out to us today get started.
Is the outcome of my civil action against a drunk driver affected by a criminal case?
If you have been involved in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, the chances are good that you will want to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages. Although the driver was probably arrested and faces criminal DUI and other possible charges, a criminal conviction will not result in any financial recovery for victims. Criminal courts prosecute crimes and punish wrongdoing, while civil court exists as the legal means for victims to receive compensation for injuries. But how will a criminal case affect the outcome of your civil action against a drunk driver?
Civil Lawsuits Versus Criminal Cases in South Carolina
A common misunderstanding about the law is that there cannot be a criminal case and a civil case for the same accident case in South Carolina. This is not true. Criminal and civil courts are entirely separate branches of the law, so a criminal charge doesn’t prevent someone from facing a civil lawsuit. A criminal charge also isn’t necessary to file a civil lawsuit. A conviction is not required, either. You can also file suit against someone who has already been convicted, even if he is in jail already.
In fact, due to the separation of the legal and civil court systems, a criminal case is not likely to have much bearing on your civil case at all. While your car accident attorney may be able to obtain a limited amount of helpful information from law enforcement officials on the criminal law side of things—such the results of a blood-alcohol test—the outcome of your civil case is ultimately independent of the criminal case.
An Accident Attorney Can Help After a Drunk Driving Injury
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger extends sympathies to you and your family. We are here to help those who have been harmed by negligence or wrongdoing, and we would like to help you start the recovery process today.
To speak to an experienced legal professional about your accident, please call us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or start a live chat with us now. Our offices are conveniently located in Columbia, and we proudly serve clients from all over the state of South Carolina, including the Myrtle Beach, Sumter, and Florence areas.
What should I do if I see an intoxicated driver?
One of the most frightening experiences while driving is when you suspect that an intoxicated driver is sharing the road. The unpredictable behavior of someone who is impaired means nothing but danger for everyone on the road. Intoxicated drivers may weave or dart across the road erratically, miscalculate turns, fail to brake or use the brakes at inappropriate times, drift from lane to lane, and otherwise cause havoc for other drivers.
3 Things to Do if You See a Drunk Driver
If you suspect that there is an intoxicated driver on the road, you may need to act to protect yourself and prevent an accident. Drive defensively by staying alert and cautious, and consider taking the following actions:
- Make sure your seatbelt is on. You should always have your seatbelt on— it is the law in South Carolina. You may want to double-check that both you and your passengers are secured, though, in case an accident does happen.
- Keep your distance. Slow down and keep back if you think a driver in front of you may be intoxicated—pull over if you can do so safely. Put as much distance between yourself and that driver as possible. Consider turning down a different street, or even taking the nearest exit as soon as possible if you are on the freeway.
- Call 911. Please remember that as a driver, your primary responsibility is to ensure the safe operation of your vehicle. While you should contact the authorities as soon as possible, wait until you are in a safe position before attempting to call or ask a passenger to make the call for you. Try to report as much information as you can, including the make, model, license plate—even a partial plate can help—and the location or direction that the driver was headed.
You should never attempt to pass a suspected intoxicated or drunk driver, because you do not know how they will react before, during, or after the pass. For the safety of yourself and everyone on the road, stay back and let the other driver move further away. You should also never attempt to interact, interfere, or apprehend a suspected intoxicated driver— that is what law enforcement is for. Stay away and call the authorities.
By remembering what to do when you see an intoxicated driver, you can do your part to keep yourself and our communities safe.
Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer After a DUI Injury
The Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger is here to help those whose lives have been shaken by a serious injury or death caused by a drunk driver, and we would like to help your family begin the recovery process. To speak with an experienced legal professional about your situation, please call us today, use our contact form to send an email, or start a chat with us right now.
How does alcohol affect a driver?
It seems that not enough drivers in South Carolina are making the responsible decision not to drink and drive. South Carolina consistently ranks among the worst states for drunk driving accidents, and over 300 people were killed in DUI crashes in our state alone in 2016. What is it that makes alcohol so dangerous when someone gets behind the wheel?
How Alcohol Affects Driving
Alcohol affects the body in many ways. Not only does it take a toll on health over time, the immediate effects make it dangerous to engage in any activity requiring skill, attention, and coordinated movement. Sensory perception is reduced, nerve-to-muscle transmission is impeded, and decision-making and higher brain functions all suffer, leading to effects such as:
- Altered judgment. Alcohol can make clear thinking, good decision-making, and planning ahead difficult, and can increase risk-taking behaviors—all critical skills for operating a vehicle.
- Lowered ability to concentrate. Driving a car involves a lot more concentration than many people realize, but when your ability to focus on the many tasks involved in driving goes away, such as steering the car, maintaining a safe speed, staying in your lane, and avoiding other cars, the risk of an accident increases greatly.
- Loss of coordination. Alcohol causes changes in the parts of the brain that control motor skills, too, which slows down reflexes and decreases the ability to safely steer or use the gas and brake pedals appropriately.
- Impaired vision. Alcohol relaxes the muscles that control the eyes, causing blurred vision and slower visual reaction time. Alcohol also decreases peripheral vision, meaning that drunk drivers have a difficult time seeing anything that isn’t directly in front of them, including other cars, pedestrians, and other hazards or obstacles in the road.
As these effects take hold in the body, the intoxicated driver may not sense dangerous situations, react appropriately to a hazard, or be able to control his or her vehicle. This can lead to a serious accident that not only hurts the drunk driver, but also leaves other innocent drivers and passengers seriously injured—or worse.
Talk with Our Drunk Driving Accident Attorneys Today
If you have been hurt by a drunk driver, the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger is here to help you seek the justice you deserve in a court of law. Not only do we serve clients in the Myrtle Beach, Florence, and Columbia areas, we are here for you no matter where you are in South Carolina. For a free consultation with a legal professional who cares about you and your family, call us at (803) 790-2800, use our contact form to send an email, or start a chat with us right now.
How serious is the drunk driving problem in South Carolina?
It is easy to think that your chances of being in an alcohol-related crash are low, especially if you are a responsible driver yourself and make the choice to never drive when you have been drinking. However, drunk driving is a serious problem both nationally and right here in South Carolina. All it takes is one accident with a drunk driver to change your life forever, leaving you or a loved one with severe, permanent injuries—or even your life.
Drunk Driving Statistics in South Carolina
Drunk driving incidents are more common than many people realize. Over a million drivers were arrested for DUI across the nation in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and more than ten thousand people were killed in DUI crashes. So where does South Carolina stand?
The fact is that our state ranks consistently amongst the worst states for drunk driving. Here in South Carolina, a full one-third of all fatal accidents in 2016 involved a driver with a blood alcohol level (BAC) at or above the legal limit—331 lives were lost that year.
Of particular concern in South Carolina are Myrtle Beach and the surrounding areas. The Grand Strand is well-known for being a highly-trafficked route through the region. With tens of thousands of visitors coming to enjoy the sights, sounds, and party atmosphere of the local area, it means that the risk of a DUI accident is disproportionately high all across Horry County—where a traffic accident happens every 48 minutes, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Legal Help After Being Injured in a DUI Wreck
If you have been hurt or a loved one has been killed by a drunk driver, you have our deepest sympathies. We are here to help those who have been hurt recover from drunk driving injuries by seeking financial compensation in a court of law, and we would like to be there for your family in your time of need, too. We proudly serve those who have been injured in DUI crashes caused by other drivers in the Myrtle Beach, Florence, Sumter, Lexington, and Columbia areas, and across the entire state of South Carolina, as well.
To speak to an experienced legal professional who cares about your case, please call us today, use our contact form to send us an email, or click the live chat box on this page right now.
How do Drunk Driving Accidents Differ from Other Car Accidents?
Crashes caused by drunk drivers can be devastating. There is simply no excuse for someone to become intoxicated, then get behind the wheel, yet it continues to happen in South Carolina. Not only do these wrecks tend to be more severe, they are also different legally. Here’s what you should be aware of if you’ve been injured by a drunk driver.
Criminal Law Versus Civil Law in a DUI Accident Case
One of the biggest sources of confusion after a driving under the influence (DUI) accident involves the difference between civil and criminal cases. It’s true that driving under the influence is a crime, and civil authorities will pursue drunk drivers in order to carry out the law. However, the criminal case does not address compensation for items such as medical bills. To hold the driver - and their insurance company - financially responsible, you will need to file an insurance claim, and potentially a lawsuit in our civil courts.
It’s a common misconception that you can’t sue someone who is facing criminal charges. Nothing could be further from the truth. The civil and criminal justice systems function independently of one another, and you absolutely can bring a civil action against someone who is being prosecuted criminally. Being convicted and in jail affords no protection from a civil suit. However, a conviction isn’t necessary to begin your civil case, as the standards of evidence in civil court are different than criminal court. Moreover, an acquittal or dismissal of the criminal charges in no way impacts your ability to hold the drunk driver accountable financially under South Carolina's civil system. Put simply, the criminal and civil DUI cases are completely independent of each other.
Punitive Damages and Drunk Driving Accidents
After an auto accident, you may seek "damages" for expenses such as hospital bills, physical therapy, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, repair or replacement of your property, physical pain, lost quality of life, and more. In addition, punitive damages may also be sought against the drunk driver. Punitive damages are designed to punish particularly bad behavior, as well as provide a warning to anyone in the future who may commit similar acts. Punitive damages may be awarded to victims when the accident was caused by gross negligence or recklessness, which is inherently present in drunk driving accidents.
Help for DUI Accident Victims in South Carolina
If you’ve been injured in a car accident that was caused by a drunk driver here in South Carolina, the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger is here to help. We represent those who have been hurt - not drunk drivers - and we can help you navigate the complex world of insurance companies, personal injury lawsuits, damage awards, and medical liens. To schedule a free consultation with us, please call our office, use the contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page. Our office is conveniently located in Columbia, and we serve a wide area across the entire state, including the Lexington, Greenville, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach areas.
For answers to questions you have about car accidents and DUI issues right now, please download our book, “Safety First, Justice Always: Your Guide to South Carolina Auto Accident Law.” It’s completely free and can help you understand your rights as a victim after a DUI crash.
What Should I Do If I am in a Crash Caused by a Drunk Driver in South Carolina?
Every serious car accident has the potential to cause harm, but a collision caused by someone that is driving under the influence (DUI) can be truly devastating. Here’s what you should do if you are involved in a car accident and suspect that the at fault driver was under the influence.
DUI Signs to Look for After a Car Crash
If you suspect drunk driving caused the crash, your first step should be to call 911. A police response means that a trained investigator will be able to examine the other driver. If he or she tests positive with law enforcement, not only does it help your legal case later, but you are helping to take a dangerous driver off the road.
While you wait for the authorities to arrive, keep your eyes open. If it’s safe to do so, consider completing the following steps:
- Use your smartphone to take pictures or video of the scene, but do not approach an obviously intoxicated driver.
- If you see any open alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia, report it to the police.
- Report the use of mouthwash, breath spray, or eye drops immediately after the accident since the driver could be attempting to conceal intoxication.
- If you notice the driver attempt to switch seats with someone else in the car, tell the police what you saw, as it could lead to serious charges.
- After the crash, you may consider contacting a personal injury attorney who helps DUI victims.
What You Need to Know After Being Hit by a Drunk Driver in South Carolina
- The state is responsible for pressing criminal charges.
After being hit by a drunk driver, many injured people and their families want to know how to hold the drunk driver criminally responsible for their reckless actions. Driving under the influence is against the law in South Carolina and across the country, so if the person proves to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, they will be arrested at the scene of the wreck and a state prosecutor will press charges against the driver. If you would like to be involved, you can contact the prosecutor or victim’s advocate, and request to speak at the driver’s sentencing. Our law firm also maintains a relationship with solicitors offices and can help ensure you are part of the process (if you choose).
- You can file a civil claim against the drunk driver to hold them civilly and financially responsible for your injuries.
In addition to the state’s criminal proceedings, you can file a civil claim to hold the drunk driver accountable for the harm you experienced. You can begin the process by contacting the defendant’s insurance company and filing a claim for your damages. The insurance provider will then open an investigation and will attempt to close your case by offering to pay you in the form of a settlement. At that point, you may choose to accept their offer or negotiate a larger settlement. Keep in mind that insurance companies make money by paying claimants as little as possible, so many people choose to hire drunk driving injury lawyers to handle negotiations with the insurance company and help ensure they receive a fair settlement.
- The insurance company should consider various damages when determining a full, fair settlement amount.
When determining if the insurance company has offered you a fair settlement, consider the costs associated with the below damages:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Lost enjoyment of life
- Future medical treatment
- Punitive Damages
If the offer from the insurance company won’t cover your medical bills, your inability to continue making the same wages, or the medical treatment you’ll need in the future, I’d encourage you to consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer in South Carolina to ensure your rights are protected.
- Even if the drunk driver who caused the accident was uninsured, you may still be able to seek recovery from your own insurance company.
In South Carolina, every car insurance policy comes with “uninsured motorist coverage.” This type of insurance coverage is designed to protect you against uninsured drivers – including intoxicated drivers. You can purchase uninsured motorist (UM) coverage up to the limits of your liability policy, so if you have $100,000.00 in liability coverage, you may also have $100,000.00 in UM coverage that you can rely on for recovery if the drunk driver did not have auto insurance.
- Even if the DUI driver only had minimum limits insurance, you may be able to recover compensation from your own underinsured motorist policy.
Every auto insurance policy sold in our state must also give you the opportunity to buy “underinsured motorist coverage” up to the liability limits. Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage protects you and your family when an at-fault driver is insured but lacks sufficient coverage to pay for all your losses. For instance, if a drunk driver crosses into the wrong lane of traffic and causes a head on collision, the injuries could be severe. Your medical bills may be $500,000.00. However, the intoxicated driver might only have $25,000.00 in coverage. This is a situation where your UIM coverage would kick in and pay for losses that the drunk driver’s policy could not cover. You may be also be able to “stack” your policies to secure additional compensation. To learn more, check out this article on stacking insurance policies.
- In addition to actual damages, you may be owed punitive damages due to the drunk driver’s recklessness.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the drunk driver for the conscious disregard he showed toward public safety when he chose to drive under the influence. In addition to receiving the “bodily injury” policy limits, punitive damages allow you to receive the entirety of the “property damage” policy limits. This means that if you were involved in an accident with an intoxicated driver in South Carolina, the insurance money available to you may be 50%-100% greater than under normal circumstances.
- If the drunk driver became intoxicated at a bar or restaurant, you may be able to recover compensation from the establishment’s insurance company.
The law holds us responsible for our actions. Therefore, if a bar serves a customer too much alcohol, then allows that person to get on the road, the bar could be required to pay for any harm the drunk driver causes. This is known as South Carolina dram shop liability. Like UM and UIM coverage, dram shop liability can sometimes be the difference between a life spent paying back medical bills and recovering fair compensation. To learn more about South Carolina’s dram shop laws, read this library article: Over-Serving Establishments and Dram Shop Laws.
- An experienced injury lawyer can help ensure your legal rights are protected after being hit by a drunk driver in South Carolina.
DUI accidents can cause permanent injuries and even death, but you only get one shot at a fair settlement. Once you sign a release, you no longer have the right to seek additional recovery, even if you later discover that you’ll need additional medical treatment as a result of the accident. That’s why it’s incredibly important to consider speaking with an attorney before settling your case. A drunk driving accident attorney can effectively investigate your DUI crash, identify additional sources of recovery, negotiate with the adjusters, and take your case to trial if a fair settlement cannot be reached.
Get Legal Help After Being Hit by an Intoxicated Driver
If you have been hurt in an accident caused by a drunk driver, please know that our entire team at the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger will do everything in our power to hold all responsible parties accountable and obtain justice on your behalf. With offices conveniently located in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, we’re able to serve clients across all of South Carolina. Call us by phone at (803) 790-2800 or (843) 427-2800, fill out our contact form, or click the live chat box on this page now to arrange a free consultation with us today.