Understanding Punitive Damages in a Charleston, SC and Summerville, SC Auto Accident Case.

Posted by Jay McMillian | Mar 30, 2018 | 0 Comments


In any civil claim or lawsuit filed by a victim of a car wreck, there are various types of legal remedies and compensation that victims are entitled to receive. An innocent victim of a car crash can obviously recover for the property damage caused to the car by the negligent driver. Furthermore, if the innocent driver suffers injuries in the wreck caused by the negligence of another driver, he/she can also receive financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and future medical treatments resulting from the auto accident. Also the innocent victim may receive monetary compensation for pain and suffering. These types of damages are known as compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are specifically aimed to return the innocent victim to a position most similar to where he/she was prior to the crash.

In addition to compensatory damages, however, there is another entire class of damages that are specifically designed to punish the wrong-doer for acting in a reckless, grossly negligent, or even intentional manner in such a way as to cause harm upon an innocent victim. This class of damages is known as punitive damages.


Punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages) are monetary damages ordered by a Court that are intended to punish the defendant for the severity of his/her actions, and to act as a deterrence from him/her engaging in such activities again. One key difference to remember is that compensatory damages are based on how serious the injuries and costs are, whereas punitive damages are based on the severity of the defendant's actions.

It is easy to see that, in some situations where the conduct of the Defendant is so egregious as to exceed any reasonable explanation, it can be easy for a punitive damages award to far exceed any compensatory damages awarded to the victim. While the Supreme Court of South Carolina has provided precedent that punitive damages be restricted to reasonable limits, there are times when the conduct of the Defendant is so egregious and so repulsive to societal norms that the Supreme Court allowed punitive damages in excess of its own recommended limits. Federal courts also have provisions regulating punitive damages within the Federal Court system.

The McMillian Law Firm is known for compassionate and effective legal representation. Call us now at (843) 900-1306 or use the online form to schedule your free no-obligation case evaluation today.


Many states rely upon case law and precedent established by state courts to regulate the awarding of punitive damages. However, in South Carolina, the state legislature has passed a statute on point regarding when punitive damages are appropriate in a personal injury action. This law can be found at  Section 15-32-520 of the South Carolina Code.  

Under Section 15-32-520, punitive damages are appropriate when a Plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the harm was done as a result of the defendant's willful, reckless, or wanton conduct. A jury must determine if a defendant is liable for punitive damages, as well determine the amount of said punitive damages.

When determining how much to award in punitive damages, a jury may consider several factors as set forth in the statute:

  • the defendant's degree of culpability;
  • the existence of past similar conduct;
  • the severity of the harm caused by the defendant;
  • the profitability of the conduct to the defendant; and,
  • the likelihood the award will deter the defendant, or others, from similar conduct.


While codifying the standards for punitive damages in South Carolina, the state legislature has also placed restrictions on punitive damages through statutory provisions as well. Section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina Code states that punitive damages will be limited to no more than either three times the compensatory damage award, or $500,000. However, the statute does allow for discretion to be exercised by state courts. A state court may allow punitive damages that exceed these amounts if the court finds:

  • that the defendant intended to harm and that his conduct did in fact harm the plaintiff;
  • that the defendant has pled guilty to, or been convicted of, a felony arising out of the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff; or
  • that the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point that the defendant's judgment is substantially impaired.


As a Car Accident and Personal Injury lawyer in my solo practice, I will take all necessary steps to protect your rights and earn just compensation for you as a result of your auto accident or injury. Through my efforts, I can bring about much needed financial relief to a victim who may be suffering from serious injuries and permanent disability. Being a small firm allows you to have direct access to your lawyer during this entire process, with open lines of communication as we work together towards a viable solution to your specific case. 

Being an experienced personal injury attorney, I have experience dealing with insurance companies. I also know where the courthouse is and will not be afraid to call the insurance company to the mat in front of a judge and jury if necessary.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or due to the negligent or reckless acts of another in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, or any of the other fine communities of the Low Country, and need to meet with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact me to set up your free case evaluation today. Let me help prevent you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company. I am serious and I am here for you! Contact The McMillian Law Firm today @ 843-900-1306

About the Author

Jay McMillian

Background I chose to build my law practice in the areas of Car Accident and Personal Injury because these areas of the law are the most accurate reflection of my values and my upbringing. Being the son of a breakfast hostess and a retired US Army Sargent turned construction worker, the values instilled upon me by my par...


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The McMillian Law Firm

Attorney Jay McMillian operates a solo practice with an emphasis on two core principles. First, to provide competent legal advice in the areas of Auto Accident and Personal Injury Law to the people he is proudest to serve, the people of the South Carolina Low Country. Second, to provide the most personal and intimate service to each and every client and give them the attention and compassion that they deserve while going through the stress and strain of negotiating or litigating an injury claim. If you live in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, James Island, Walterboro, Moncks Corner, and you or someone you love has been injured by the negligence of another, please call Jay at The McMillian Law Firm today.

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