How is negligence determined in a South Carolina car accident case?
After a serious car accident in South Carolina, anyone who was hurt will likely be dealing with large medical bills, missed work income, and other losses. The good news is that, if they can prove that another driver or party was negligent, then they may be able to recover compensation from the negligent party through an injury claim.
Establishing negligence isn’t always straightforward after a car accident case, however. The plaintiff, or the person who has sustained injuries, has the burden of proof to establish that the defending party was negligent. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must be able to show that all four parts of a negligence claim are present and that there is sufficient evidence for each.
Working with a South Carolina car accident lawyer allows you to understand how negligence claims work and what types of evidence are best-suited for proving a negligence-based injury claim. They will also research the outcomes of cases similar to yours and the most-relevant state and federal laws while investigating the circumstances of your accident using all available evidence. Their assistance can allow you to maximize your chances of obtaining all damages you have suffered as a result of your crash.
The Four Parts of Negligence
Each negligence claim seeks to basically establish the following four elements:
- Duty of care — The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care to obey traffic laws and generally exercise reasonable care in order to prevent foreseeable harm
- Breach of duty — The defendant breached their duty of care, either by breaking specific laws or by operating their vehicle in a less-safe manner to the extent they could cause foreseeable harm
- Proximate cause — The defendant’s breach in their duty of care was the direct (proximate) cause of an accident and a resulting injury
- Damages — The plaintiff’s injury led to measurable damages that can be recovered through the civil court system
In order to understand how each of these elements is involved in a negligence claim, let’s explore them further.
Duty of Care
A duty of care is an express or implied obligation to take actions that are known to minimize the risk of foreseeable injury to others. In plainer terms, a duty of care refers to the way we are expected to conduct ourselves and reasonably watch out for others’ safety.
We all have a huge amount of expectations placed upon us that can be understood as a duty of care. When driving, our main duties of care are to follow driving laws, including speed limits, proper signaling, obeying traffic devices, not driving while drunk, and generally following the “rules of the road.” Our duty of care also extends to taking the driving precautions we are taught in driver’s ed and other instructional courses. We know to check out blind spots before changing lanes, for example, or how to accelerate and merge onto a fast-moving lane on the highway.
Proving that a defendant had a duty of care often comes down to examining specific state and municipal laws. It can also involve breaking down the expectations placed upon us every time we drive, including an obligation to keep our eyes on the road, our car in our lane, and our wits generally about us. We understand — or at least a “reasonable person” would understand — that failing to follow our duty of care could result in possible harm to others, which means that the consequences of failing our duty of care are “foreseeable.”
Breach in Duty
A breach occurs any time someone deviates from their expected duty of care. This can mean a clear violation of the law, such as by speeding or following a vehicle too closely. It can also involve a failure to act in a reasonably safe manner, such as when someone gets too focused on their thoughts and fails to see another vehicle stopped on the road ahead.
When researching car accident cases, the defendant’s duty of care and breach of duty often go hand in hand. The investigating attorney will look at any actions the defendant took that could have contributed to the accident’s circumstances. They will then trace these dangerous, reckless, or careless actions back to a specific duty of care.
In some cases, such as those involving commercial truck drivers, uncovering the breached duty of care can be somewhat difficult. The attorney representing the case may need to research federal carrier laws to uncover that the truck driver violated a duty of care that is not always enforced upon others on the road, such as an obligation to not drive too many hours in a single day.
In an injury case, the plaintiff must be prepared to show how the defendant’s breach in their duty of care directly led to the accident. For example, if the defendant did not signal before they were going to turn, as required by South Carolina law (SC Code § 56-5-2150), then the plaintiff is obligated to explain how this directly led to their crash.
In some cases, the defendant may have breached a duty of care, but did so in a way where the link between that action and the car accident isn’t immediately clear. An attorney can assist with documenting the exact chain of events that occurred in an accident and explaining how the defendant’s breach of duty directly led to a collision and a resulting injury.
Similarly, the plaintiff has to be prepared to show how the accident led to their injuries. For injuries like broken bones or lacerations from glass, this connection may be obvious. However, for complex medical conditions or situations where an injured person delays treatment, a defendant — or their insurance company — can argue that there’s no proof that the injury was directly caused by their breach of duty.
Damages are provable losses sustained by the plaintiff as a result of their injury. There are two main categories of damages: special damages and general damages.
“Special damages” refers to any monetary amount actually lost by the plaintiff, including projected future losses. Examples include the costs of emergency care, their hospital bills, the wages they’ve lost while recovering, their projected rehabilitation costs, and so forth.
“General damages” are losses felt by the plaintiff that are more difficult to quantify. The most common examples are the pain and suffering they feel as well as any loss of enjoyment of life. These damages can be established with statements made by the plaintiff, ideally with a daily log to outline what exact pain and suffering were felt and how the injury generally impacted their life.
Proving damages can become another possibly contentious part of a claim without the right legal strategies. An insurance company may argue that some expenses were not “reasonable and necessary” medical treatments for the given crash injury. They may also try to argue that certain expenses were related to the treatment of pre-existing conditions, rather than the crash injuries themselves.
An experienced attorney knows how to anticipate these defense strategies and counteract them. They may work with medical experts who will testify in an interrogatory that the procedures used by the plaintiff are considered a standard treatment for the injury, for example.
South Carolina’s Modified Comparative Negligence Laws
Worth noting is that, in South Carolina, car accident victims are not barred from seeking to recover compensation for their damages when they have contributed some fault to the accident in question (SC Code § 15-1-300). If the accident victim has caused 50% fault or less, they can still recover their losses.
However, any negligence on the part of the injury victim means that their available award will be reduced proportionally. So if, for example, the plaintiff made a mistake while driving that was determined to be 25% of the cause of an accident, and the plaintiff’s total damages are $100,000, their total available award will be reduced by 25%. That means the maximum they can recover, in this instance, would be $75,000.
Insurers and defendants know that they can allege an injury claimant contributed to their own accident, thereby, reducing their available settlement or award. A seasoned South Carolina car accident lawyer can help you anticipate this possibility and prepare to defend against any allegations that you contributed to fault, helping you increase your chances of obtaining the maximum award available.
Get Help Proving Car Accident Negligence From Auger & Auger
Auger & Auger Personal Injury Lawyers work closely with car accident victims all throughout South Carolina. Our chief goal is to help you maximize your chances of recovering every cent of losses you have experienced as a result of your crash. We have thousands of car accident cases, and our experiences have taught us the best legal strategies and methods that are capable of winning cases.
When you have been hurt, don’t feel as if you have to seek compensation on your own. Get an attorney on your side, and we can help you handle your case from start to finish. Your case will be valued based upon every loss you have experienced, and you will be prepared to establish negligence using all of the components above.
Schedule a free, no-obligation case review today to speak to an attorney and get started. Call 800-559-5741 or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.