In 2005, the South Carolina legislature passed the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act. It was designed to create fairness in allocating how much a defendant has to pay when multiple defendants are sued in a case. A defendant found to be more than 50% at fault is responsible for the entire award. Those found liable for less than 50% only pay their fair share. Code of Laws - Title 15 - Chapter 38 - South Carolina Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (scstatehouse.gov) Recently, there has been a push to change that law. The proposed law, S-533, plans to eliminate the current allocation of liability of defendants in a case. Click Here to view the bill.
A recent editorial in the Post and Courier discussed the proposed changes and explained what proponents of the new bill are not telling the public. "What they don’t mention is that this policy doesn’t apply in the vast majority of lawsuits filed in South Carolina. Normally, defendants who are assigned less than 50% of the blame only pay their share of damages.
The exception is for ‘a defendant whose conduct is determined to be willful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, or intentional' and for conduct ‘involving the use, sale, or possession of alcohol or the illegal or illicit use, sale, or possession of drugs.’”
What this law means is that even if the people who sold or served alcohol or engaged in those other bad behaviors were only slightly responsible for a death or injury, they can get stuck paying most or all of the damages. That’s how important our lawmakers think it is to deter bad behavior, and rightly so.” Editorial: A tragic reminder of why bars have to pay more than 'their share' (Post and Courier)
The current Law is under attack because insurance companies are complaining of rising insurance rates. South Carolina ranks in the top states in the country for DUI deaths. SC has a drunk driving problem — among the worst in the U.S. (The State). Lawsuits are likely to follow these DUI arrests. Bill S-533 will not solve the issue of rising insurance rates. It will only make it more difficult for victims’ families to recover.
Senator Luke Rankin was quoted in the Post and Courier (Is a larger insurance fight looming at the Statehouse?) as saying, “We certainly have bills dealing with dram shop and tort reform, but the hue and cry I mostly hear is about property and casualty insurance. People’s homeowner insurance is skyrocketing along the coast.” In this same article, I stated, “The public and bar owners are being fed misinformation about South Carolina’s liability system by multi-billion-dollar insurance companies looking to expand their profit margins. Premium increases are not the result of some new, rising liability exposure in our state. The current laws have been on the books for six years. Bars and restaurants, like every other business or individual in our state, can only be held responsible in court if 12 independent jurors are unanimously convinced that the business acted negligently and helped cause a victim’s injuries or death. That is a high bar that correctly holds all parties responsible when there is overwhelming evidence to support a case.”
KD Trial Lawyers is committed to efforts to maintain the current law, and support an inquiry into why insurance rates are rising in South Carolina in all areas of insurance coverage. If you have questions about this issue, please reach out to me.