Punitive Damages for Excessive Speed in South Carolina Trucking Accidents Discussed in Fairchild v. SCDOT

Knowing and following the rules about speed and driving methods are critical to avoiding vehicle accidents in South Carolina.
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The way a person drives and the vehicle they are driving, can affect the damage award in your personal injury case. Our experienced Carolina injury attorneys can help you get the award you deserve.

Truck accidents can be very dangerous because of the weight and force of truck involved in a collision. Fairchild v. South Carolina Department of Transportation involves a multiple car and truck accident in South Carolina.

James Rabb (Driver) was an employee for the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). He was driving a dump truck with a trailer attached to the back. Driver went into the median of the highway to make a u-turn but the back of his trailer remained sticking out into the traffic lane where plaintiff was traveling. When Fairchild saw the trailer sticking out in the road in front of her, she flashed her brakes causing the truck behind her to crash into the rear of her vehicle. The truck behind Fairchild was driven by Palmer, who also had a trailer attached to the rear of his truck. Due to the force of impact, Fairchild’s vehicle flipped over and landed in the median of the road. Rabb’s truck and trailer were never hit.

Plaintiff sued Palmer and Palmer Construction Company in a negligence action. She sought actual and punitive damages for her physical injuries and property damages. When a plaintiff is seeking punitive damages, a jury is to be charged with the decision of whether to award this type of damages.

When determining the type of damages you are entitled to, it is important to analyze the areas of your life that have been impacted because of your car accident.
Punitive damages are non-compensatory. The purpose of a punitive damage award is to send a message to the public and deter behavior such as that of which the defendant was guilty. This type of damages award is reserved for cases where the defendant acted egregiously, with negligent or with malice.

In this case, Palmer argued that the inference from the evidence that indicated that he acted recklessly was incorrect. Additionally, because this inference was incorrect the defendant argued that the jury should not have heard the issues surrounding punitive damages.

The court looked to South Carolina governing statute. In car accident cases, the behavior of the guilty party is governed by what a reasonable and prudent person would do. In this case, the court specifies that speed must be controlled in order to avoid collisions. A driver has the duty of using care when entering a highway or traveling on it, to avoid potential or actual hazards. Also, the court looks to state statute that prohibits the following of another vehicle too closely.

Therefore, when driving in South Carolina it is your duty to drive with the prudence of a reasonable person in your same predicament.

Because of Palmer’s speed in causing the accident the court found that it was sufficient proof to be presented to jury about Palmer’s driving. The jury, not the judge, is charged with determining whether a party acted recklessly, willfully and/or wantonly.

Driving recklessly is a violation to the South Carolina statute; therefore, if the jury finds that the party so acted, negligence can be imputed.

Thus the court held that it would be wrong not to submit the question of punitive damages to the jury in this case. Because of this finding, the plaintiff won over $700,000 in damages.

If you have been injured contact North Carolina injury attorneys at Lee Law Offices to schedule a free appointment today. Call 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Fairchild v. South Carolina Department of Transportation, No. 27112 (S.Car. S.Ct Apr. 11, 2012).

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