Oftentimes when there is a car wreck the negligent driver will drive off hoping to avoid any liability, leaving the other party seriously injured, and sometimes dead. Surely there should be additional liability, including punitive damages, imposed for this criminal behavior, but to what extent?
Case law is relatively unsettled in this area; however, there are a few cases that speak to this issue. The primary purpose of punitive damages in South Carolina is to punish the wrongdoer and discourage him or her from engaging in that type of behavior again. Unlike an award for actual damages, punitive damages are not reduced by comparative negligence of the parties. See Clark v. Cantrell. In Clark v. Cantrell, the excessive speed of the negligent party and the lack of remorse after the accident led the jury to award punitive damages of $75,000.00. The Supreme Court affirmed that this amount was reasonable and should not be reduced by the relative negligence of the plaintiff. Another Court held, “It is indeed manifest that subsequent conduct may tend to throw light upon the immediate occurrence under investigation, especially where mental attitudes are important, such as a conscious failure to observe due care, and the like.” Hallman v. Cushman, 196 S.C. 402, 407, 13 S.E.2d 498, 501 (1941). Post-collision conduct clearly can be evaluated when awarding punitive damages.
Other jurisdictions have held specifically that fleeing the scene of the crime is evidence of the negligent party’s lack of remorse. See, for example, Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Services, 115 F.3d 436 (7th Circuit 1997). This type of conduct would be left to a jury to decide whether or not it deserves an award of punitive damages, but there is clear precedent that establishes that they may be awarded. The conduct is clearly relevant, and the more egregious the conduct, the more likely punitive damages will be awarded.
If you or somebody you know has been involved in a car ccident, it is wise to seek an attorney to review insurance policies to ensure that all available insurance is exhausted. Please contact one of our personal injury lawyers at Miller|Conway at +843.764.3334. We are a Charleston car accident lawyers located in Goose Creek handling personal injury cases throughout the Greater South Carolina region, including car accidents in Summerville, North Charleston and Downtown and we are here for you when you need us.
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