Are You a Legal Professional?

State Laws

Your Columbia Car Accident: The Basics

Last updated: November 1, 2013

You're driving down Assembly Street on your way out of the city, when a vehicle suddenly pulls onto the road right in front of you. You slam on your breaks and try to turn to avoid the car, but you've got too much momentum and you're too close. The cars crash into each other, and you spin across the road until your car comes to a stop. What happens next? If you've been in an accident in Columbia or nearby, this article is for you. You may be rattled, concerned about the damage to your car, and possibly injured. This article has a rundown of the laws, regulations, and other legal information relevant to your Columbia car accident.

South Carolina's Fault System

Your Columbia car accident is subject to the laws and regulations of South Carolina. South Carolina follows a "fault" system when determining who is liable (who pays) for the damage caused by an accident. States that follow a "no fault" system generally require that a person who sustained damage or injury in an accident exhaust his insurance resources to pay for the damage, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. However, under a "fault" system, either the individual at fault for the accident or his insurance company is responsible for paying for the damage.

A person with property damage or injury who wasn't at fault in a car accident, therefore, generally has three options for recovery:

  • File a claim with his own insurance company, which will then most likely try to recover from the at-fault driver's insurer;
  • File a third-party claim with the insurance company of the at-fault driver; or
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Determining Fault

If you file a claim with an insurance company, an insurance adjuster will use the evidence available to make a determination of fault. If you're involved in a personal injury lawsuit, the judge or the jury makes that determination. Evidence of fault could include statements of witnesses, photographs of the scene and damage to property, medical records, and accident reports.

Because reports by law enforcement could be useful for determining fault, you should consider calling the police after an accident if they are not already present at the scene. Note that you are required to report the accident to a South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 15 days if the accident resulted in injury or death to any person, or over $1,000 in property damage.
 
Insurance Requirements and Making a Claim
 
If you registered your car in South Carolina, you know that the state requires its drivers to carry minimum liability insurance: $25,000 for the injury or death of a single person, $50,000 for a single accident, and $25,000 for any vehicle or property damage you cause as a result of the accident. All policies sold in South Carolina must also include uninsured motorist coverage.

Whether you choose to file a claim with your own insurance company or file a third-party claim with the insurance provider of another person involved in the accident, there are a few things you should know. Check out FindLaw's article Car Insurance Claims: Do's and Don'ts for a quick guide to things you should and should not do when filing a claim. FindLaw's article Insurance Claims After an Accident: The Basics also has helpful information about your insurance claim. After you file a claim, the insurer will generally appoint an insurance adjuster to determine fault in your accident. Then, the insurer will either offer you a settlement amount or deny your claim.

If you're unhappy with an insurer's decision, in some cases, you can use the insurance company's internal appeals process to appeal the decision. If you feel your claim has been wrongfully denied, you can also file a complaint with the South Carolina's Department of Insurance.
 
Car Accident Lawsuits in Columbia
 
When you file a lawsuit in Columbia to recover money from someone involved in your car accident, you're most likely filing a personal injury claim based on South Carolina negligence laws. In many instances, the parties in an accident or injury case are able to reach a settlement agreement before the case goes to trial.

However, if your case reaches the trial stage, the finder of fact (either a judge or a jury) will decide who was at fault in your accident. If the finder of fact finds that you, the plaintiff, were more than 50% at fault for your accident, you will be barred from recovery, meaning you won't be able to recover money for your damages from another person at fault in the accident. However, if you're found to be 50% or less at fault in the accident, and the defendant is also found to be at fault, you are entitled to recover for your damages, but your recovery will be reduced in proportion to your fault. This system of tort recovery is called modified comparative negligence.

If you haven't already done so, you may wish to consider consulting an attorney about your car accident case. Even though hiring a private attorney carries a cost (usually only in the event that you win or settle your case), you may find that hiring an attorney can maximize your recovery. Plus, in a typical contingent fee arrangement with a personal injury attorney, you don't pay them anything if you lose your case.

Now that you've learned a few things about your car accident case in Columbia, visit FindLaw's Accidents and Injuries section in Learn About the Law. This section has a wealth of helpful information about car accident laws and procedures and personal injury cases.