When another driver is at fault in an auto accident, the process to recover damages is relatively straight forward.  A claim is filed against the other driver, a judge or jury decides the facts and renders a verdict.  But what happens if the party at fault isn’t a private citizen or corporation, but a government agency?  With road construction resuming on Highway 278 in Bluffton, South Carolina, it is important to familiarize ourselves with the State of  South Carolina’s legal responsibilities if the Department of Transportation (SCDOT) causes an accident.

Claims against government agencies cannot be filed under the traditional tort scheme.  They must be filed under a special statute called the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.  (See copy of relevant SC Code Section(s) 15-78-10, et.seq. below)  This is because of a legal concept knows as “sovereign immunity.”  Sovereign immunity dates back to early English law and states that the government, being the maker of the law, cannot commit any legal wrong doing and thus is immune from civil or criminal liability.  The South Carolina Tort Claims Act makes an exception to this and allows people to file claims against government agencies.

There are some limitations on the liability of government agencies.  A single person cannot recover more than $300,000 for a single occurrence, no matter how many agencies are involved.  Recovery for a single occurrence cannot exceed $600,000, no matter how many claims are involved.  Finally, recovery from a licensed physician or dentist employed by a government agency cannot exceed $1,200,000, no matter how many agencies or claims are involved.

If you are involved in an auto accident because of a careless SCDOT driver, negligent roadwork, broken traffic signals or damaged roadways you may file a claim against the Department of Transportation under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act .  Keep in mind there are many exceptions to the government’s waiver of immunity and most are open to interpretation.  This is why it is important to obtain a knowledgeable attorney to assist you with your claim.

If you or a loved one has been hurt because of the negligence of a government agency, please contact The Kerr Law Firm at 843-785-3330 for a free consultation.  You may also email us at info@kerrlf.com.  We would be happy to assist you with your case.

 

South Carolina Statutes

§ 15-78-40. Tort liability of State, agency, political subdivision, or governmental entity, generally

The State, an agency, a political subdivision, and a governmental entity are liable for their torts in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, subject to the limitations upon liability and damages, and exemptions from liability and damages, contained herein.

§ 15-78-120. Limitation on liability; prohibition against recovery of punitive or exemplary damages or prejudgment interest; signature of attorney on pleadings, motions, or other papers

(a) For any action or claim for damages brought under the provisions of this chapter, the liability shall not exceed the following limits:

(1) Except as provided in Section 15-78-120(a)(3), no person shall recover in any action or claim brought hereunder a sum exceeding three hundred thousand dollars because of loss arising from a single occurrence regardless of the number of agencies or political subdivisions involved.

(2) Except as provided in Section 15-78-120(a)(4), the total sum recovered hereunder arising out of a single occurrence shall not exceed six hundred thousand dollars regardless of the number of agencies or political subdivisions or claims or actions involved.

(3) No person may recover in any action or claim brought hereunder against any governmental entity and caused by the tort of any licensed physician or dentist, employed by a governmental entity and acting within the scope of his profession, a sum exceeding one million two hundred thousand dollars because of loss arising from a single occurrence regardless of the number of agencies or political subdivisions involved.

(4) The total sum recovered hereunder arising out of a single occurrence of liability of any governmental entity for any tort caused by any licensed physician or dentist, employed by a governmental entity and acting within the scope of his profession, may not exceed one million two hundred thousand dollars regardless of the number of agencies or political subdivisions or claims or actions involved.

(5) The provisions of Section 15-78-120(a)(3) and (a)(4) shall in no way limit or modify the liability of a licensed physician or dentist, acting within the scope of his profession, with respect to any action or claim brought hereunder which involved services for which the physician or dentist was paid, should have been paid, or expected to be paid at the time of the rendering of the services from any source other than the salary appropriated by the governmental entity or fees received from any practice plan authorized by the employer whether or not the practice plan is incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State.

(b) No award for damages under this chapter shall include punitive or exemplary damages or interest prior to judgment.

(c) In any claim, action, or proceeding to enforce a provision of this chapter, the signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading, motion, or other paper; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well-grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. If a pleading, motion, or other paper is not signed, it shall be stricken unless it is signed promptly after the omission is called to the attention of the pleader or movant. If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, shall impose upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion, or other paper, including a reasonable attorney’s fee.

§ 15-78-60. Exceptions to waiver of immunity

The governmental entity is not liable for a loss resulting from:

(1) legislative, judicial, or quasi-judicial action or inaction;

(2) administrative action or inaction of a legislative, judicial, or quasi-judicial nature;

(3) execution, enforcement, or implementation of the orders of any court or execution, enforcement, or lawful implementation of any process;

(4) adoption, enforcement, or compliance with any law or failure to adopt or enforce any law, whether valid or invalid, including, but not limited to, any charter, provision, ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, or written policies;

(5) the exercise of discretion or judgment by the governmental entity or employee or the performance or failure to perform any act or service which is in the discretion or judgment of the governmental entity or employee;

(6) civil disobedience, riot, insurrection, or rebellion or the failure to provide the method of providing police or fire protection;

(7) a nuisance;

(8) snow or ice conditions or temporary or natural conditions on any public way or other public place due to weather conditions unless the snow or ice thereon is affirmatively caused by a negligent act of the employee;

(9) entry upon any property where the entry is expressly or impliedly authorized by law;

(10) natural conditions of unimproved property of the governmental entity, unless the defect or condition causing a loss is not corrected by the particular governmental entity responsible for the property within a reasonable time after actual or constructive notice of the defect or condition;

(11) assessment or collection of taxes or special assessments or enforcement of tax laws;

(12) licensing powers or functions including, but not limited to, the issuance, denial, suspension, renewal, or revocation of or failure or refusal to issue, deny, suspend, renew, or revoke any permit, license, certificate, approval, registration, order, or similar authority except when the power or function is exercised in a grossly negligent manner;

(13) regulatory inspection powers or functions, including failure to make an inspection, or making an inadequate or negligent inspection, of any property to determine whether the property complies with or violates any law, regulation, code, or ordinance or contains a hazard to health or safety;

(14) any claim covered by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, except claims by or on behalf of an injured employee to recover damages from any person other than the employer, the South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Act, or the South Carolina State Employee’s Grievance Act;

(15) absence, condition, or malfunction of any sign, signal, warning device, illumination device, guardrail, or median barrier unless the absence, condition, or malfunction is not corrected by the governmental entity responsible for its maintenance within a reasonable time after actual or constructive notice. Governmental entities are not liable for the removal or destruction of signs, signals, warning devices, guardrails, or median barriers by third parties except on failure of the political subdivision to correct them within a reasonable time after actual or constructive notice. Nothing in this item gives rise to liability arising from a failure of any governmental entity to initially place any of the above signs, signals, warning devices, guardrails, or median barriers when the failure is the result of a discretionary act of the governmental entity. The signs, signals, warning devices, guardrails, or median barriers referred to in this item are those used in connection with hazards normally connected with the use of public ways and do not apply to the duty to warn of special conditions such as excavations, dredging, or public way construction. Governmental entities are not liable for the design of highways and other public ways. Governmental entities are not liable for loss on public ways under construction when the entity is protected by an indemnity bond. Governmental entities responsible for maintaining highways, roads, streets, causeways, bridges, or other public ways are not liable for loss arising out of a defect or a condition in, on, under, or overhanging a highway, road, street, causeway, bridge, or other public way caused by a third party unless the defect or condition is not corrected by the particular governmental entity responsible for the maintenance within a reasonable time after actual or constructive notice;

(16) maintenance, security, or supervision of any public property, intended or permitted to be used as a park, playground, or open area for recreational purposes, unless the defect or condition causing a loss is not corrected by the particular governmental entity responsible for maintenance, security, or supervision within a reasonable time after actual notice of the defect or condition;

(17) employee conduct outside the scope of his official duties or which constitutes actual fraud, actual malice, intent to harm, or a crime involving moral turpitude;

(18) imposition or establishment of a quarantine by a governmental entity, whether the quarantine relates to persons or property;

(19) emergency preparedness activities and activities of the South Carolina National Guard and South Carolina State Guard while engaged in state or federal training or duty. This exemption does not apply to vehicular accidents;

(20) an act or omission of a person other than an employee including but not limited to the criminal actions of third persons;

(21) the decision to or implementation of release, discharge, parole, or furlough of any persons in the custody of any governmental entity, including but not limited to a prisoner, inmate, juvenile, patient, or client or the escape of these persons;

(22) termination or reduction of benefits under a public assistance program;

(23) institution or prosecution of any judicial or administrative proceeding;

(24) holding or conduct of elections;

(25) responsibility or duty including but not limited to supervision, protection, control, confinement, or custody of any student, patient, prisoner, inmate, or client of any governmental entity, except when the responsibility or duty is exercised in a grossly negligent manner;

(26) failure to supervise or control areas open for public hunting or activities thereon. Failure to control, maintain, and/or supervise the use of and activities in, on, and around public boat ramps except within a reasonable time after actual notice of the defect or condition. Failure to maintain navigational markers, except within a reasonable time after actual notice of the defect or condition.

(27) solicitations on streets and highways as authorized by the provisions of Section 5-27-910.

(28) Notification of any public school student’s parent, legal guardian, or other person with whom a public school student resides of the student’s suspected use of alcohol, controlled substance, prescription or nonprescription drugs by any public school administrator, principal, counselor, or teacher if such notification is made in good faith.

(29) acts or omissions of members of the state and county athletic commissions or ringside physicians acting within the scope of their official duties pursuant to Chapter 7 of Title 52.

(30) acts or omissions of members of local foster care review boards acting within the scope of their official duties pursuant to Subarticle 4, Article 13, Chapter 7 of Title 20. However, the member shall act in good faith, his conduct may not constitute gross negligence, recklessness, wilfulness, or wantonness, and he must have participated in a training program established by the state foster care review board system.

(31) acts or omissions of employees and volunteers of the South Carolina Protection and Advocacy System for the Handicapped acting within the scope of their official duties pursuant to Article 5, Chapter 33 of Title 43, when such acts or omissions are done or made in good faith, and do not constitute gross negligence, recklessness, wilfulness, or wantonness.

(32) a pre-occupancy housing inspection contracted for by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce pursuant to Section 46-43-40.

(33) the performance of any duty related to the service of members of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission or the Citizens Committees on Judicial Selection.

(34) the performance of any duty related to the service of the members of the Tobacco Community Development Board.

(35) the failure of a library’s or media arts center’s governing board to adopt policies as provided in Section 10-1-205.

(36) acts or omissions by a special state constable who is appointed pursuant to Section 23-7-10 and acting within the scope of his official duty under conditions of a national emergency or of a serious and immediate risk to the physical security of an energy facility within the special state constable’s jurisdiction as provided in Section 23-7-40.

(37) the performance of any duty related to the service of the members of the Tobacco Settlement Revenue Management authority.

(38) conduct of a director appointed pursuant to Section 58-31-20 giving rise to a lawsuit under Section 58-31-57.

(39) the grant or denial by a governing body of a county or municipality as provided in Section 23-35-175 of an application to extend a Fireworks Prohibited Zone beyond the subject property for which a Discharge of Fireworks Prohibited Agreement has been filed.

(40) an injury a student may sustain as a result of self-monitoring or self-administering medications or for an injury that a student may sustain from taking or using medications or self-monitoring devices for which the student does not have a prescription or does not have authorization by the school district.