On June 14, 2011, Governor Haley signed into law House Bill 3375 providing substantial limitations on punitive damages in South Carolina. Traditionally, South Carolina has been one of the most liberal states with regard to punitives. South Carolina joined the rest of the southeast in enacting caps to punitive damages.
The first important change is that the Statute now requires that punitive cases be bifurcated. Up to this point, it had been left to judicial discretion whether to bifurcate these cases, thus allowing very damaging evidence to the jury during the liability phase of trial. Most judges chose not to bifurcate these cases. Having a mandatory bifurcation requirement will be helpful to defendants in civil cases as it will limit the scope of evidence reaching the jury in the first phase of the case.
The second important part of the change a cap on the amount of punitive damages allowable. The first level of caps is three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
In the event that the tortuous conduct was motivated by unreasonable financial gain or involves the commission of a felony, the cap is raised to four times compensatory damages or $2 Million. Finally, the cap is blown when there is intent to harm, a conviction of a felony, or the involvement of a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Of course, this is not nearly what the business community wanted, but it is a step in the right direction. It is likely that further efforts will be advanced during the next legislative session.
This goes into effect for accidents occurring after January 1, 2012. Rob Moseley and Kurt Rozelsky worked closely with the SC Trucking Association in working with its coalition partners in this project.
Click here to view the full Summer 2011 edition of the Transportation Industry Newsletter.