After any kind of traffic accident in South Dakota, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensation. In this article, we'll discuss a few South Dakota laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
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.)
In South Dakota, lawsuits over car accident injuries are governed by the statute of limitations found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-14. This law gives you three years to ask South Dakota's civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury caused by someone else.
So, in the context of a car accident, that means any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this three-year filing deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
If anyone was killed as a result of the car accident, South Dakota Codified Laws section 21-5-3 sets its own three-year statute of limitations deadline for any wrongful death claim that might be brought by the deceased person's family or representatives. The main difference is that, for these kinds of claims, the three-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim’s death (as opposed to the date of the accident itself).
Finally, if you've had your vehicle or other property damaged as a result of a car accident, the catch-all statute of limitations found at South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-13 gives you six years to get your case filed.
Whichever deadline applies, 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 Dakota car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a South Dakota 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 Dakota Codified Laws section 20-9-2 says that "the fact that the plaintiff may have been guilty of contributory negligence does not bar a recovery when the contributory negligence of the plaintiff was slight in comparison with the negligence of the defendant, but in such case, the damages shall be reduced in proportion to the amount of plaintiff's contributory negligence."
In plain English, that means you can still get compensation from the other driver as long as the jury finds you only "slightly" at fault for your injuries, but any compensation you receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to the percentage of negligence that’s deemed to be yours.
South Dakota is the only state that follows this version of "comparative negligence," where the plaintiff's share of fault must be "slight" in order for him or her to still recover compensation from the defendant. There's no set definition of "slight." The jury will make its own determination based on the specific circumstances of the case.
Pure comparative fault works like this in practice in South Dakota: Suppose that, in your car accident case, the jury decides your fault was in fact "slight," they set it at 10 percent, and decide that your total damages are $10,000. In that situation you would receive $9,000: the $10,000 total minus the $1,000 that represents your 10 percent share of the blame for the accident.
The comparative negligence rule binds South Dakota 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.
According to South Dakota Codified Laws section 32-34-7, the driver of any motor vehicle involved in an accident in the state must report the crash -- "by the quickest means of communication" (i.e. by immediate phone call from the scene) to the nearest available law enforcement officer -- if:
In almost every South Dakota car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on South Dakota's car insurance rules.