The world is a dangerous place. From a car accident along Kings Highway to slipping on a puddle inside Bi Lo, you could suffer a severe injury with no warning, and through no fault of your own. Fortunately, the South Carolina court system can help you recover compensation for your costs associated with the injury. But pursuing a lawsuit and making trips to court may seem daunting, particularly for someone still suffering the physical and emotional effects of an injury. You may have many questions up front, and may not even be sure you have a case to begin with!
To help you proceed, FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for your Myrtle Beach personal injury lawsuit.
Time Limits on Filing
Don't delay in pursuing your lawsuit. Every lawsuit has an inherent time limitation that stops you from filing in court for a claim after too much time has passed since an injury happened. This statute of limitations prevents people from dragging defendants into court for injuries after evidence has disappeared and witnesses have forgotten all the details. The South Carolina statute of limitations provides three years from the date you were injured to initiate your lawsuit. In medical malpractice cases, you have three years from the time you could have "reasonably discovered" the injury to file. After the time limit has passed, you forfeit your right to seek compensation in court over the incident, regardless of the strength of your case.
Types of Lawsuits
The law of negligence governs most personal injury cases. Negligence is when someone carelessly causes an accident, resulting in an injury to another. To succeed, you must prove that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and that his disregard caused your injury.
On the other hand, when someone intentionally causes an injury a personal injury suit is pursued under assault or battery theory.
Medical malpractice law governs injuries caused by a health care provider. As you'd expect, experts like doctors are held to a higher standard of care. You could prove a medical malpractice case when, contrary to prevailing professional standards in your area, your doctor misdiagnoses your ailment, unreasonably delays treatment, or leaves a foreign object inside your body during surgery. Other health care professionals may also be covered by medical malpractice laws.
If you are hurt by a defective consumer product, you could sue the manufacturer of the product that caused the harm. A products liability lawsuit alleges that the product has a design or manufacturing defect that caused the product to malfunction in an unexpected way. Products liability law governs a huge range of products, including medicines, cars, baby toys, food, and toxic materials.
If an injured person dies as a result of an accident, his or her close family members could seek to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for the resulting costs borne by the family of the deceased, such as lost wages, lost companionship, medical bills, and funeral expenses.
How to File a Lawsuit
Filing a personal injury lawsuit is not too complicated, as a litigant first must draft a complaint, which is a brief, plainly worded description of the injury-causing event, plus a request for compensation. A Civil Cover Sheet (DOC) should also be included with a complaint.
What comes next? The complaint must be "served" (basically, delivered) on the defendant along with a "summons," which orders the defendant to appear in court. A defendant can be served by certified mail, though hiring a process server to physically hand the documents to the defendant works too.
Then it's time to file your documents. The best place to file a lawsuit is in Conway at the Horry County Courthouse at 1301 Second Ave., though you should consider filing in small claims court if your lawsuit is worth less than $7,500. You can find the small claims division at the Magistrate Court in Myrtle Beach at 9630 Scipio Lane.
Those are the basic steps to filing a suit, but there's more to pursuing a case in court from start to finish, so you may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys give free consultations and almost universally work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer gets a cut of your eventual recovery, and he doesn't get paid until and unless you win.
If you sustained your injury at work, you are probably covered by workers compensation insurance. The South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission requires all employers with at least four employees to purchases insurance against workplace injuries, with rare exceptions. If injured on the job, report your injuries to your employer within 90 days, or else you risk forfeiting any benefits. Your employer should automatically file a claim with the Commission.
The money you request to compensate you for the injury is called damages. Damages are split into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are easy quantifiable, as they include:
Non-economic damages are designed to compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffered as a result of the injury. These so-called "pain and suffering" damages can include the value of losing enjoyment of daily life, fear, anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring, and disfigurement.
South Carolina places an upper limit on the amount of non-economic damages you can recover from a medical malpractice case. You may only recover $350,000 from any single defendant, and only $1.05 million total from all defendants in such a case. This figure is constantly adjusted for inflation and only applies to medical malpractice cases.
Historically, if the plaintiff contributed to his own injuries, he could recover nothing. This harsh doctrine is softened by the comparative negligence rule. South Carolina follows a modified comparative negligence standard, where fault is assigned each plaintiff and defendant, and the plaintiff's total recovery is reduced by the percent he is found to be at fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. However, beware the 51% rule -- if you are found to be more at-fault than the defendant, you will recover nothing.
Now you know more about the process of a personal injury case in broad strokes, but you can read more about your specific cause of action in FindLaw's personal injury section.
Contact a qualified attorney.