South Carolina Accident Lawsuit Process

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Many of us get behind the wheel of a car daily, without putting too much thought into whether or not it is safe to do so. Yet despite major advances in motor vehicle safety, car crashes remain a leading cause of death and serious injury in our country. In 2020 alone, there was one car accident that caused an injury every 16 minutes in South Carolina – and a fatal accident every 9.1 hours.

If you have been hurt in an auto accident, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. Through this type of claim, you can recover financial compensation for your property damage, lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses. An experienced South Carolina car accident attorney can help you get the money that you deserve for your injuries.

At the Derrick Law Office, we are dedicated to advocating for the rights of accident victims throughout the state. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more, reach out to our law firm to schedule an appointment with a member of our legal team.

When Can You File a Car Accident Lawsuit?

In South Carolina, car accident claims are usually based on a theory of negligence, which can also be viewed as a type of carelessness. A person is considered negligent if they fail to use the level of care that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation. For example, if a reasonable person would stop at a red light, then a person who runs a red light would almost certainly be considered negligent if they caused a crash.

Negligence has four elements, each of which you must prove if you want to win your personal injury claim:

  1. Duty: the at-fault party (defendant) owed the injury victim (plaintiff) a duty of care.
  2. Breach: the defendant breached (violated) that duty in some way.
  3. Causation: this violation was the proximate or but-for cause of the accident (i.e., the accident wouldn’t have happened but for the defendant’s breach).
  4. Damages: the plaintiff suffered losses as a result.

In car accident cases, another driver may be negligent in any number of ways. They might coast through a stop sign, text while driving, go too fast for the conditions, or fail to yield before merging onto a highway. If the other driver did something to cause your accident, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your losses by filing a claim against their insurance policy.

In some situations, an injury victim may not have to prove that the other driver was negligent. Under the legal theory of negligence per se, if the at-fault driver violated a statute and the plaintiff suffered the type of harm that the law was designed to prevent, then the defendant will be considered negligent per se. In the example above, if the plaintiff can show that the other driver ran the red light, then that will usually be enough to recover money.

While most car accident cases involve negligence, some are based on a claim of intentional or reckless conduct. For example, if a person engages in drinking and driving and causes a crash, then they could be held liable for their intentional or reckless behavior.

Questions of liability for motor vehicle accidents can be complicated. For example, there may be situations where more than one person was negligent – such as a multi-vehicle collision. In South Carolina, an injury victim can still recover for their losses even if they were partially responsible for a crash. As long as they were 50% or less at fault, they could still seek a settlement under the state’s comparative negligence laws.

If you have been hurt in a wreck and are not sure if you can file a claim, your best option is to schedule a free consultation with a South Carolina car accident lawyer. During this appointment, your attorney will listen to your story and offer you legal advice about your rights and options for pursuing a claim.

Compensation in a South Carolina Car Accident Case

In a collision claim, an accident victim may be able to recover three types of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are considered compensatory because they compensate a plaintiff for their losses. Punitive damages punish a wrongdoer for their intentional or reckless conduct.

Economic damages cover direct financial losses. They are usually proven by documentation such as medical bills, estimates for car repairs, pay stubs, and other invoices. Examples of economic damages include:

  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Medical bills
  • Future medical treatment
  • Necessary modifications to a home or vehicle due to a disability

Non-economic damages pay a victim for their intangible losses. They can be harder to prove because you don’t get a bill in the mail for things like emotional trauma. However, a skilled South Carolina car accident lawyer will use their experience and knowledge of similar cases to put together a claim for damages such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Scarring
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the at-fault driver acted intentionally or recklessly. The most common example of a situation where punitive damages may be appropriate is a drunk driving crash. In South Carolina, punitive damages are capped at the greater of three times compensatory damages (economic plus non-economic damages) or $500,000. While punitive damages are not possible in every motor vehicle accident case, your South Carolina personal injury lawyer will inform you of the potential for seeking these damages in your case.

If a person dies in a car accident, then their loved ones may be able to seek damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. This lawsuit is brought by the estate of the deceased person, with proceeds going to the heirs. Damages in a wrongful death claim may include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost financial support and benefits, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of the deceased person’s experience, knowledge, and care.

Damages in a car accident case can vary significantly based on several factors, including the severity of the injury, whether anyone has a permanent disability, and the limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage. The best way to get full compensation for your injuries in any South Carolina personal injury lawsuit is by working with a skilled attorney who will fight for your rights.

The Accident Lawsuit Process

Car accident claims typically start with a free consultation. During this appointment, you will get a chance to explain what happened and get legal advice about your case. There is no obligation to hire a lawyer when you schedule a consultation.

After your attorney explains your rights and options, you may decide to hire their law firm. At this point, they will get to work investigating the facts of your case and researching relevant case law.

An investigation may involve interviewing witnesses, requesting and reviewing accident reports, and analyzing photos and videos of the accident scene. Your lawyer may also consult with experts such as accident reconstruction professionals to get a better idea of exactly how the crash happened. They will also research South Carolina law to start to build a legal case for liability.

At the same time, your personal injury attorney will gather information about damages, or your losses. Depending on the seriousness of your accident, your lawyer may examine medical records and bills, estimates from car repair shops, and paystubs. They may also talk to experts, including your treating physicians, about how your injuries will affect your life moving forward – including your ability to work and earn a living.

The next step in the process is usually to take all of this information and send what is known as a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. A demand letter sets out the facts of the case and the legal reasons why their insured is liable before making a demand for damages (compensation). Insurance companies typically respond to a demand letter with a counteroffer.

Typically, the parties will go back and forth until a fair settlement can be negotiated. For example, if your lawyer demands $500,000 in damages based on their analysis of your case and losses, the insurance company may respond with a counteroffer of $300,000. If the difference isn’t too big – and the parties agree on the essential elements of the case, including who is at fault – then it may be possible to achieve a settlement without going to trial.

However, it is often necessary to file a car accident lawsuit to preserve your legal rights. Filing a lawsuit does not mean that your case will go to trial. Instead, it offers an opportunity to learn more about the case and continue negotiations.

Lawsuits begin with pleadings. The injury victim (plaintiff) files a document known as a complaint at the local courthouse and serves it upon the at-fault party (defendant). The defendant then files an answer to the complaint. In an answer, the defendant can raise defenses and make counterclaims.

Once the lawsuit is filed, the pre-trial process begins. During this time, lawyers for each side will file motions, or legal documents that ask the court to do something (such as excluding certain types of evidence from the case). The court will also set a schedule for the different things that will need to happen over the coming weeks and months – such as dates for pre-trial hearings and deadlines for discovery.

The parties will exchange information during discovery, which may involve oral testimony (depositions), written questions and answers (interrogatories and requests for admission), and the exchange of documents and other evidence (requests for production). For example, in most personal injury claims, the accident victim will be deposed by attorneys for the at-fault driver’s insurance company. A deposition often takes place in a conference room, with a court reporter taking notes. Lawyers for each side will ask questions, and the entire process will be recorded. 

Discovery can be tedious, but it is a chance to learn more facts and potentially push for a settlement.  Consider a situation where the injury victim finds out through discovery that the at-fault driver was taking prescription medication at the time of the crash which could affect their judgment and reaction time. This fact could be useful in getting a settlement, as an insurance company probably won’t want a jury to hear about it during trial. As each side learns more about the case, they may be able to agree on a settlement amount.

Even as your lawyer negotiates with the insurance company, they will still be getting ready for trial. This will usually include developing legal arguments, preparing witnesses and evidence, and putting together a “story” of the case. These preparations will not only ensure that your legal team is ready to go to trial but will also help them in negotiations.

In some cases, the parties will engage in more formal forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation or arbitration. In mediation, an independent third party – the mediator – helps the parties as they attempt to achieve a settlement. Arbitration is a more formal process where both parties present their evidence and arguments, and the arbitrator decides. 

Negotiations often continue right up to the eve of trial. If your case does go to trial, then each party will have an opportunity to present arguments, introduce evidence, and question witnesses. The judge or jury will then render a verdict. If either side is unhappy with the outcome, they may be able to file an appeal.

Car Accident Lawsuit Settlements

The timeline for resolving a car accident lawsuit can be relatively quick. In some cases, a settlement can be achieved in a matter of weeks or months. If the case has to go to trial, however, then it may take a year or longer to resolve your car accident case.

The vast majority of personal injury cases – including car accident lawsuits – are settled outside of court. Insurance companies are more willing to offer a fair settlement that truly compensates you for your losses when you have a smart, experienced attorney on your side. When they know that you are ready, willing, and able to go to trial, insurers are far more likely to offer you a fair settlement rather than risk a jury verdict.

The Derrick Law Office understands that the accident lawsuit process can be scary and overwhelming. Our goal is to walk our clients through each step of the process, keeping you updated and informed while we fight to get you the best possible outcome for your case. If you want to get top dollar for your claim, reach out to our law offices to schedule a free consultation with a South Carolina car accident lawyer.

How Much Is My Car Accident Case Worth? 

When it comes to car accident cases, there is no such thing as an “average settlement.” Instead, the value of your claim depends on a range of factors, such as the severity of your injuries, whether you are expected to make a full recovery if you were partially at fault for the crash, and the policy limits of the at-fault driver’s car insurance coverage. For example, if you suffered minor bruises and cuts in a crash, your case will almost certainly be worth less than a claim where a person suffered a traumatic brain injury.

During a free initial consultation, a South Carolina car accident lawyer will give you a ballpark estimate of the value of your case. As the case proceeds, this amount may increase or decrease. Reach out to the Derrick Law Office today to schedule an appointment with a member of our legal team.

When Should I File a Car Accident Lawsuit?

In South Carolina, there is a 3-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, including car accident lawsuits. The statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on when a claim can be filed. If you don’t file a lawsuit within this period, then you won’t be able to sue the at-fault driver for your losses.

3 years may seem like a long time – and it is! But there is a lot of value to getting the process started as soon as possible so that witness memories are fresh and evidence is preserved. In South Carolina, contact the Derrick Law Office to talk to a personal injury lawyer about your claim.

How Can I Afford to Hire a Lawyer for My Car Accident Case?

Personal injury lawyers typically work on a contingency fee basis. This type of fee arrangement means that you won’t pay anything up-front. Instead, you will pay a percentage of your total recovery (settlement or verdict at trial). This percentage is usually between 30 and 40%, depending on whether or not your case goes to trial. If you don’t win, then you won’t have to pay an attorney’s fee.

Contingency fee agreements allow you to hire an attorney even if you don’t have the extra cash to pay a retainer or an hourly fee. They also align the interests of the client and the lawyer: you both want to resolve the case as quickly as possible and for as much money as possible. To schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney, reach out to the Derrick Law Office today.

How Our Law Firm Can Help

Being in a car accident can be incredibly traumatic. Afterward, you may be too overwhelmed dealing with things like medical expenses, doctor’s appointments, and lost wages to even consider filing a lawsuit. We can help you take on the big insurance company, standing by your side to help you get maximum compensation.

The Derrick Law Office is committed to helping accident victims get the money that they deserve for their injuries. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you won’t pay anything up-front and will only pay a fee if we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation appointment with a South Carolina car accident attorney, give us a call at 864-531-7765 or fill out our online contact form.