South Carolina Car Accident Laws and Statute of Limitations

The deadline for filing a South Carolina car accident lawsuit, when you need to report a car accident in South Carolina, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 10/17/2022

If you've been involved in a traffic accident in South Carolina, there are a few state laws to get familiar with—especially if you end up making a car accident claim—including:

  • the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in South Carolina's civil court system
  • how South Carolina's "modified comparative fault" comes into play when a car accident injury claimant shares some amount of fault for the crash, and
  • when you need to report a car accident in South Carolina.

Is South Carolina a "No-Fault" State?

While a number of states follow a "no-fault" system for car accidents, at least when it comes to car insurance, South Carolina isn't one of them. That means anyone who causes a car accident in South Carolina can be held financially responsible for all resulting injuries and property damage.

Of course, from a practical standpoint the at-fault driver's car insurance company will absorb most of these losses, up to the driver's liability coverage limits. That's what car insurance is for, after all.

Get the details on South Carolina's car insurance rules.

What Car Accident Losses Are Paid In South Carolina?

As noted above, the person at fault for a car accident in South Carolina (and their insurance company) is on the financial hook for the full spectrum of resulting losses (these losses are called "damages" in the language of the law), including:

  • the cost of past and future medical treatment for car accident injuries
  • the cost of repairing or replacing any vehicle damaged in the crash
  • lost income and other financial losses that can be traced to the accident and resulting injuries, and
  • mental and physical pain and suffering caused by the impact of the accident and injuries on the claimant.

The South Carolina Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Lawsuits

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

South Carolina Code section 15-3-530 sets the statute of limitations for any kind of case that could result from a car accident. Whether it's for car accident injury for vehicle damage, or for wrongful death stemming from a car crash, this law gives you three years to ask the state courts for a civil remedy.

So, that means if anyone was killed or hurt in the crash—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian—or had their vehicle or other personal property damaged, they (or their representative) must get their lawsuit filed against any potential defendant within three years.

When Does the Statute of Limitations "Clock" Start?

For injury and property damage cases, the three-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident. But for a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a car accident, the "clock" starts running on the day of the accident victim's death, which could be later than the date of the accident itself.

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

If you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it's crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence In South Carolina Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a South Carolina car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident—but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

South Carolina is a "modified comparative negligence" state. This means you can still recover compensation in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence, as long as that share was not greater than that of other parties.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000.

Keep in mind that if your level of fault exceeds that of the other party (or parties), you'll be barred from recovering anything at all under South Carolina law.

The comparative negligence rule binds South Carolina judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

When Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in South Carolina?

According to South Carolina Code section 56-5-1270, the driver or owner of any vehicle involved in an accident must complete and send a Traffic Collision Report form to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles if the crash wasn't investigated by law enforcement, and it resulted in:

  • total property damage of an apparent extend of $1,000 or more, or
  • bodily injury or death.

The completed report must be submitted within 15 days after the accident.

Getting Help After a South Carolina Car Accident

When you're involved in a car accident, getting information about your state's laws may be only a first step. Especially if you've been injured and key issues like fault for the crash are in dispute, it might make sense to discussion your situation (and your options) with a legal professional. Learn when you might need a lawyer after a car accident, and how to find the right attorney for an injury case. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a South Carolina injury lawyer near you.

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