Punitive damages are defined as monetary compensation awarded to an injured party that goes beyond that which is necessary to compensate the individual for losses and that is intended to punish the wrongdoer.  According to Section 15-32-510 of the South Carolina Code in order to receive punitive damages the claim for punitive damages MUST be asked for in the complaint but the specific amount may not be. 

            Section 15-32-520 of the South Carolina Code goes on to say that punitive damages may only be awarded if the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the harm done was the result of the defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.  The jury will decide if punitive damages should be awarded and how much should be awarded.  The trial court will review the award to make sure it is appropriate.  The jury may take the following into consideration but is not limited to:


  • The defendant’s degree of culpability,
  • The severity of the harm caused by the defendant,
  • The extent to which the plaintiff’s own conduct contributed to the harm,
  • The duration of the conduct, the defendant’s awareness, and any concealment by the defendant,
  • The existence of similar past conduct,
  • The profitability of the conduct to the defendant,
  • The defendant’s ability to pay,
  • The likelihood the award will deter the defendant or others from like conduct,
  • The awards of punitive damages against the defendant in any state or federal court action alleging harm from the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff,
  • Any criminal penalties imposed on the defendant as a result of the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff, and
  • The amount of any civil fines assessed against the defendant as a result of the same act or course of conduct complained by the plaintiff.

Punitive damages may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or the sum of $500,000.  The jury may not know this.  If the amount exceeds the limit the trial court will adjust it unless the court deems the defendant’s conduct was for unreasonable financial gain and that the conduct was known or approved by a manager or director or if the defendant’s conduct could be convicted of a felony.  If court determines either of these to be true, then the court can award four times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or the sum of $2,000,000.

If the court determines one of the following applies, then no cap on punitive damages will apply:

  • At the time of injury the defendant had an intent to harm and determines that the defendant’s conduct did in fact harm the claimant, or
  • The defendant has pled guilty to or been convicted of a felony arising out of the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff and that act or course of conduct is a proximate cause of plaintiff’s damages, or
  • The defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with a prescription or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.

If you or loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, please contact The Kerr Law Firm at 1-800-350-2990 or locally at 1-843-785-3330.  You may also email us at info@kerrlf.com.  We would be honored to assist you with your case.