According to and new bill passed by the South Carolina Legislature, punitive damage payouts for lawsuits will be limited in South Carolina. The House approved capping punitive damage awards in the typical case at $500,000, or three times the actual damages, whichever is greater.
The bill allows the court to lift the cap if the defendant's conduct could bring a felony conviction or was motivated by unreasonable financial gain. In cases like that, punitive awards are limited to $2 million, or four times the actual damages that include things like lost wages and hospital bills, if that amount is larger. There would be no cap at all if the defendant intended to cause harm, was guilty of a felony tied to the incident, or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The main cause of punitive damages in auto accident cases are individuals driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This bill and the limits it sets are very similar to other states within the southeast, such as the state of Florida.
Initially the House approved a lower cap of $350,000 or triple actual damages and the inital bill also would allow juries to hear whether accident victims were wearing seat belts in auto accidents. Howver, the Senate dropped the seat belt provision and raised the caps after business groups and lawyers spent many hours working out a compromise.
The bill is expected to be approved by Gov. Nikki Haley as early as this week.
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