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 drunk driving accident lawyer 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 today at 803-790-2800 (Columbia, SC) / 843-427-2800 (Myrtle Beach, SC), or start a live chat 24/7 with a real, live person to arrange a free and confidential consultation.