South Carolina House Approves Cap on Punitive Damages

February 15, 2011

The South Carolina House of Representatives recently approved limits on punitive damages yesterday by a vote of 100 to 7.

The bill would limit punitive damages for people winning civil suits to three times the actual damages awarded, or a maximum of $350,000.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, cast the measure as a pro-business legislation and a Republican priority.

“Businesses in South Carolina – especially small businesses – are too often one frivolous lawsuit away from being put out of business. Our goal with this tort reform bill is to bring fair balance to our system, lower the cost of doing business and make our state more competitive while still protecting our citizens from wrongdoing,” Harrell said in a statement.

The legislation also sets some restrictions on the state attorney general in the hiring of outside lawyers and imposes a schedule of maximum fees that these outside counsel can be paid for state work.

The bill also allows prosecutors to tell juries whether a defendant in a car accident lawsuit was wearing a seat belt, information that is now barred from disclosure to juries.

A Senate committee is expected to take up similar legislation this week. Last year the House passed a similar bill but it never reached a final Senate vote.

The House bill has an effective date of July 1.

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