Liability and Damages In Car Crash Cases

April 3, 2016

An man faces criminal charges after he ran a stop sign moments before a fatal crash near Latta.

 

South Carolina Highway Patrol officers state that 43-year-old Stewart Sherman was northbound on Secondary Road 151 when he failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of 151 and SC 917. As a result, he essentially T-boned a 2005 Chrysler. A passenger in that vehicle, later identified as 37-year-old Krissi Lane, of Latta, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

 

Both drivers were also transported to area hospitals with various injuries.

 

Violation of Statute

 

When a driver runs a red light, exceeds the posted speed limit, makes an unsafe lane change, or violates any other provision of any state criminal law, including provisions in the Traffic Code, negligence per se may come into play. The elements are:

 

  • The defendant violated a criminal statute;
  • Causing harm the statute was designed to prevent; and
  • To a member of a protected class.

 

In South Carolina, negligence per se (NPS) creates a rebuttable presumption in both the liability and punitive damages portions of civil trials.

 

NPS is a more objective approach to liability than traditional negligence and offers jurors more of a “checklist” when they determine legal fault. For example, in an alcohol-involved crash, if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was not arrested for DUI, the plaintiff must prove impairment through circumstantial evidence. Given the lower standard of proof in civil court, such a showing is normally not a problem. But if the tortfeasor received a DUI, the jury can ignore the circumstantial evidence, like bloodshot eyes and unsteady balance, altogether.

 

To disprove liability under those facts, the tortfeasor would most likely have to show that the officer lacked probable cause for the arrest, which is a very difficult burden to carry, even in civil court.

 

NPS also creates a presumption of extreme recklessness. To award punitive damages based on negligence per se, the plaintiff must prove:

 

  • Statutory Violation: Once again, any violation of any criminal statute meets this requirement.

 

  • Proximately Caused Injury: To defeat a punitive damages claim, the defendant may introduce evidence of another party’s negligence, either at the crash scene or perhaps by a treating physician.

 

The amount of punitive damages varies significantly based on the tendencies of jurors in particular jurisdictions, the evidence in the case, and other factors. But regardless of the amount of punitive damages, car crash victims are always entitled to compensation for their economic and noneconomic losses.

 

An Attorney Who Is on Your Side

 

There are various ways to obtain significant compensation in civil court. For a free consultation with an assertive personal injury attorney in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices. You have a limited amount of time to act.

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