What Does Comparative Negligence Mean?

SC follows what is called a “modified comparative negligence rule” in civil cases, which may reduce a plaintiff’s recovery in some cases by the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff, or completely bar a plaintiff from recovering damage in other cases.

Our rule is different than the rules followed in some other states – for example, in NC they follow what is called the “contributory negligence rule” which bars a plaintiff from recovering damages in any case where the plaintiff is even 1% at fault.

In this article, we will look at SC’s comparative negligence rule and how it works, including:

  • What comparative negligence means,
  • How comparative negligence works if there is more than one defendant,
  • What contributory negligence (the NC rule) means, and
  • Examples of comparative negligence in SC.

What is Comparative Negligence in SC?

The SC Supreme Court adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence in 1991 in the case Nelson v. Concrete Supply Company:

For all causes of action arising on or after July 1, 1991, a plaintiff in a negligence action may recover damages if his or her negligence is not greater than that of the defendant. The amount of the plaintiff’s recovery shall be reduced in proportion to the amount of his or her negligence. If there is more than one defendant, the plaintiff’s negligence shall be compared to the combined negligence of all defendants.

If there is evidence that the plaintiff was partially at fault for the accident, the jurors will be asked to determine what percentage of fault should be assigned to the plaintiff and to the defendant (or each defendant, if there is more than one).

If the plaintiff was 50% or less at fault in the accident, the plaintiff’s recovery is then reduced by the percentage of fault that was assigned to him or her. If the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault, they are barred from recovering any damages at all.

What is There is More Than One Defendant?

When there is more than one defendant, the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is compared to the combined negligence of all defendants – if the plaintiff’s fault is more than 50% of the total fault, the plaintiff does not recover. If the plaintiff’s fault is 50% or less, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by that amount.

SC Code § 15-38-15 outlines the procedure courts should follow when there are multiple defendants.

The jurors must:

  • Specify the total amount of damages to be awarded,
  • Determine the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff (comparative negligence), and
  • Determine the percentage of fault of each defendant in the case.

Any defendant whose conduct is determined to be less than 50% of the total fault is liable to pay only their percentage of damages as determined by the jurors, and joint and several liability will not apply.

This doesn’t apply, however, to any defendant “whose conduct is determined to be wilful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, or intentional or conduct involving the use, sale, or possession of alcohol or the illegal or illicit use, sale, or possession of drugs.”

If one of the defendants was a drunk driver who caused your crash, for example, they will be liable for the full amount of damages even if there is another defendant who cannot pay their share.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Although most states (including SC) now follow the comparative negligence rule, there are some states (NC) that still follow the older contributory negligence rule.

Under the contributory negligence rule, any fault on the part of the plaintiff completely bars them from recovering any damages – if the defendant was 99% at fault in causing a car accident, for example, and the jurors find that the plaintiff was just 1% at fault, the plaintiff recovers nothing.

Examples of Comparative Negligence in SC

Suppose there is a car accident where the plaintiff disregarded a yield sign just before the defendant, who was driving drunk, slammed into the plaintiff’s car at an excessive speed.

If the jurors find that the plaintiff was 51% at fault for disregarding the yield sign, the plaintiff recovers nothing, and the defendant pays nothing.

If the jurors find that the plaintiff was 30% at fault for disregarding the yield sign, however, the plaintiff’s total recovery will be reduced by 30%. For example, if the plaintiff’s verdict was for $1 million, the plaintiff will only receive a judgment for $700,000.

Examples of what is not comparative negligence in SC:

Questions About Comparative Negligence?

If you are hurt in an auto accident caused by another driver in Conway or Myrtle Beach, SC, consult with an experienced trial lawyer immediately who can help you to gather the evidence you need to prove liability and damages, to settle your claim for full and fair compensation, and to try your case to a jury if the insurance company doesn’t pay.

Even if you were partially at fault in the accident, you may still be entitled to recover damages if your fault was less than 50%.

Call Johnny Gardner Law now at 843-248-7135 or send us an email through our website to find out how we can help.


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