What is the Property Damage Statute of Limitations in South Carolina?

Pay attention to South Carolina's statute of limitations, or you could find yourself without a legal remedy for your damaged or destroyed property.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

In South Carolina, as in every state, if you've had your property damaged as a result of someone else's negligent or intentional action, you might consider filing a lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's critical to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to property damage claims.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that puts a strictly-enforced limit on how much time can pass before you must file a case in court. Miss the deadline and you effectively lose the right to bring your case to court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.

What's the Property Damage Lawsuit Filing Deadline In South Carolina?

In South Carolina, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including vehicle damage), it usually must be brought to the state's civil court system within three years, according to South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-530. Specifically, this statute sets a three-year deadline for, among other kinds of lawsuits:

  • "an action for trespass upon or damage to real property," and
  • "an action for taking, detaining, or injuring any goods or chattels" (personal property, in other words).

So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of his/her house caused by someone else's negligence, that case must be brought within three years in South Carolina. The same goes for a vehicle damage claim after a car accident. The three-year "clock" starts running when the property owner becomes aware (or should reasonably have become aware) of the incident that gave rise to the damage.

Learn more about how property damage claims work.

What's the Statute of Limitations for Construction Defect Lawsuits In South Carolina?

If you think your property damage was caused by a construction defect, the statute of limitations deadline that will apply to this kind of lawsuit depends on whether the focus of the claim is on:

  • a broken contract or breached warranty involving the quality of the construction, or
  • the builder/contractor's negligence.

Contract-based lawsuits over construction defects in South Carolina are usually subject to a three-year filing deadline. (South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-530.) But the builder might be entitled to notice of the defect and an opportunity to fix the problem before the lawsuit can be filed.

Negligence-based construction defect lawsuits typically must be filed within eight years of when the project was completed. (South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-640.)

Understanding the difference between these kinds of cases (and which deadline applies) can get complicated. Talking to a South Carolina attorney might make sense if you think your property damage case involves a construction defect. Learn more:

Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Insurance Claims?

The statute of limitations only applies to lawsuits filed in South Carolina's court system. It doesn't apply to insurance claims involving property damage. But you'll want to get the insurance claim process started as soon as possible after your property is damaged, and preserve the court option as leverage during settlement negotiations.

What If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline in South Carolina?

If you try to file your South Carolina property damage lawsuit after the statute of limitations time limit has passed, it's a near-certainty that:

  • the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, and
  • the court will grant the dismissal, unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on these rules later).

If your lawsuit is dismissed as time-barred under the statute of limitations, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. So it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the South Carolina statute of limitations for property damage cases, even if you're fairly certain you'll be able to resolve the situation without resorting to a lawsuit.

Extending the Statute of Limitations Deadline In South Carolina

For most kinds of civil lawsuits in South Carolina—including property damage claims—a number of (relatively rare) situations could serve to extend the three-year lawsuit filing deadline.

When the Property Owner Is Under a "Legal Disability"

If, at the time the property damage occurs, the property owner is under the age of 18 or has been declared "insane," they're considered to be under a "legal disability" in South Carolina.

Once the period of disability ends—meaning the property owner turns 18 or is declared sane—they'll have one year to get a civil lawsuit filed over the property damage. (Note: The period of limitations can't be extended more than five years based on insanity.) This rule can be found at South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-40.

When the Defendant Leaves the State

Under South Carolina Code of Laws section 15-3-30, if the person who is alleged to have caused the property damage leaves the state of South Carolina before the lawsuit can be filed, and takes up residence in another state or is gone for more than one year, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the three-year time limit for filing suit.

Other circumstances may affect the South Carolina statute of limitations, and how it's calculated. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, an experienced South Carolina attorney will have the answers.

Where Do I File a South Carolina Property Damage Lawsuit?

Many South Carolina property damage lawsuits are filed in the state's Circuit Courts, which have jurisdiction over most civil cases. There are 16 Judicial Circuits in the state. The circuit for the county where the person you're suing lives, or where your property is (or was) located is probably the right place to file.

Can I File a Property Damage Lawsuit In South Carolina Small Claims Court?

Yes. Small claims court is an option for your South Carolina property damage case, as long as you're not seeking more than $7,500 in compensation. Learn more about filing a small claims case in South Carolina Magistrates Court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Property Damage Claim?

If there's insurance coverage that applies to your property damage claim, handling the claim process on your own might make sense, at least at the outset. It can be tough to find an attorney for cases that involve only property damage. And paying for a lawyer might not even be worth it unless your losses are significant.

But a South Carolina lawyer's help might be crucial if your case also involves personal injury, a construction defect, or some other legal issue. Where the at-fault party's personal injury and property damage liability overlap, a lawyer might also agree to take your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won't pay for the lawyer's services unless you receive a settlement or court award. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.

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