Two bills would reduce unfairness in SC’s civil liability system

Two bills would reduce unfairness in SC’s civil liability system

A pair of House and Senate bills filed in February would move South Carolina’s civil liability laws in the right direction and a foster a legal environment that is fairer to businesses and more conducive to economic growth.

The bills (S.533 and H.3933) would require juries or judges to consider nonparties in addition to defendants when determining fault in civil cases. Current law does not permit juries or judges to consider the liability of nonparties when assigning fault percentages, even if they were partially responsible for an incident.

This change would ostensibly reduce the number of businesses forced to pay disproportionate damage awards, which is a major problem with South Carolina’s modified “joint-and-several liability” system. Under our version of the law, a person or business named as a defendant who is at least 50% responsible in a civil case can be forced to pay the entire verdict.

The bills would also strike the much harsher state law applied to businesses selling alcohol, which hypothetically could force them to pay entire verdicts if they are just 1% at fault for an incident, depending on the circumstances.  

By requiring juries or judges to consider all the relevant actors in a case, including those which are not present in the courtroom, fault percentages should in theory be assigned more fairly and not automatically assumed by defendants.

While the bills are a step in the right direction, they do not represent a pure several liability model, in which each defendant is only financially liable for their percentage of fault. The Policy Council supports this model, as does the American Tort Reform Association.

The Nerve reported last year that some wealthy South Carolina businesses have been targeted in lawsuits in relation to our civil liability rules. A pair of bills to revise these laws were also filed in 2021.

Fostering a legal environment that is fairer to businesses is a key priority on our 2023-24 Legislative Agenda, among other legal reforms, which you can learn more about here.