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Partial Fault in Charleston Car Accidents: Can You Still Recover Damages?

Being in a car accident can be a traumatic experience. You may suffer injuries and vehicle damage that leads to expensive medical bills and auto repairs. What happens if the accident was partially your fault? Does this mean you cannot recover any compensation?

In South Carolina, the law allows for comparative negligence in car accident claims. This means you may still recover damages even if you were partially responsible for the crash. However, your compensation would be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence in SC

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that used to bar plaintiffs from any recovery if they were even 1% at fault for an accident. For example, if a person suffered $100,000 in damages but was 10% responsible for the crash, they would recover nothing under contributory negligence. This was previously the law in South Carolina.

SC Previously Followed Contributory Negligence

South Carolina used to follow the contributory negligence rule. This harsh doctrine prevented many plaintiffs from obtaining compensation even when the defendant was primarily negligent.

SC Transitioned to Comparative Negligence

In Nelson v. Concrete Supply Co., 303 S.C. 243, 399 S.E.2d 783 (1991), the South Carolina Supreme Court abolished contributory negligence. It adopted a modified comparative negligence rule. Now, plaintiffs may recover reduced damages based on their percentage of fault, so long as it is 50% or less. For instance, if you suffer $10,000 in injuries but were 30% at fault, you could potentially recover $7,000 (reduced by your 30% negligence). Your ability to obtain 70% of your damages provides greater fairness under the law.

Determining Fault in Charleston Car Accidents

  • Police Accident Reports – Officers who respond to the scene will investigate and note contributing factors to the crash in their reports based on physical evidence and accounts from witnesses and the drivers involved. These official reports can be critical for establishing negligence.
  • Eyewitness Accounts– – If there were any third-party witnesses to the accident, their testimony can provide objective details on how the crash occurred and which party was at fault. Witness statements may be key evidence.
  • Expert Accident Reconstruction – Specialists can analyze physical evidence from the scene, vehicle damage, injury patterns, and more to scientifically reconstruct the accident and determine liability. Their expert opinions can prove or disprove negligence.
  • Physical Evidence – Data from sources like skid marks, damage location and severity, camera footage, and other evidence from the scene may demonstrate fault or discredit accusations of negligence.

Common Causes of Partial Fault in Charleston

  • Failure to Yield Right of Way – If you fail to yield at a stop sign or red light, you may share fault for an accident even if the other driver was speeding.
  • Distracted Driving – If you were texting, eating, talking on the phone, or otherwise distracted when the accident occurred, you could be found partially negligent.
  • Disobeying Traffic Laws – Ignoring stop signs, traffic lights, lane markings, or other rules of the road could lead to a finding of partial liability.
  • Improper Lane Changes or Turns – Making turns or changing lanes without proper signals or checking blind spots may result in shared fault for a collision.
  • Speeding or Aggressive Driving – Driving too fast for conditions or aggressively can contribute to an accident even if the other party made an error.
  • Tailgating – If you were driving too closely behind the vehicle in front of you, you may bear some responsibility for rear-end crashes.
  • Ignoring Conditions – Driving recklessly in rain, fog, or other adverse weather may lead to a comparative negligence ruling.

Limits to Recovering Damages

  • When Plaintiffs Cannot Recover – Those judged more than 50% liable cannot recover any damages. Plaintiffs may also be barred recovery in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct on their part.
  • How Juries Determine Fault Percentages – Juries decide the percentage of fault assigned to each party. The amount you can recover is reduced by your allocation percentage. If excessive, the jury may penalize the plaintiff.
  • When Damages May Reduce or Bar – Higher degrees of negligence by the plaintiff can result in reduced compensation or even a total bar to recovery in some cases. Damages awarded may be lowered by the plaintiff's fault percentage.

How Comparative Fault Impacts Damages?

Under comparative negligence, the damages you can recover get reduced by your percentage of fault. Some specific examples:

  • Medical expenses – If you were 30% at fault for the crash, you can potentially recover 70% of your medical bills.
  • Lost income – If you missed work due to accident injuries and were 25% responsible, you may claim 75% of your lost wages.
  • Pain and suffering – Non-economic damages like pain and suffering can also be reduced by your fault percentage.
  • Property damage – You are entitled to recover your vehicle repair costs or replacement value, minus your degree of fault. If you were 60% responsible, you could claim just 40% of your property damage.
  • Comparative negligence allows accident victims to recover something even when they share fault. But it's important to remember that damages get reduced by your percentage of responsibility. An experienced Charleston personal injury attorney at the Kahn Law Firm can help maximize your compensation in a partially at-fault situation.

Get Experienced Legal Help After a Car Accident in Charleston

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Charleston where partial fault is being alleged, it's important to get experienced legal representation on your side. Even if you were partially at fault, you may still be able to recover compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and other damages.

For assistance, we are available 24/7 and provide consultations to evaluate your case and inform you of your rights. Contact us at 843-920-5690 for a free case review and ensure you get the compensation you deserve.