TYP: General Bill GB
SPO: Kirsh, Robinson, Simrill
COM: Judiciary Committee 25 HJ
SUB: Punitive damages in civil actions, recovery amount limited; attorneys
fees, Courts, Torts
Body Date Action Description Com Leg Involved
______ ________ _______________________________________ _______ ____________
House 19990112 Introduced, read first time, 25 HJ
referred to Committee
House 19981209 Prefiled, referred to Committee 25 HJ
Printed Versions of This Bill
9 A BILL
11 TO AMEND TITLE 15, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH
12 CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO CIVIL REMEDIES AND
13 PROCEDURES BY ADDING CHAPTER 34 SO AS TO
14 ESTABLISH STANDARDS AND PROCEDURES FOR THE
15 RECOVERY OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES IN CIVIL ACTIONS,
16 INCLUDING A LIMIT ON THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF
17 PUNITIVE DAMAGES WHICH MAY BE AWARDED, THE
18 MANNER IN WHICH PUNITIVE DAMAGES MUST BE
19 STATED AND PLED, THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE
20 TRIER OF FACT AND THE COURT WITH REGARD TO
21 PUNITIVE DAMAGES, AND THE AWARDING OF
22 ATTORNEY‟S FEES IN FRIVOLOUS OR MALICIOUS
23 PUNITIVE DAMAGE CLAIMS; AND TO REPEAL SECTION
24 15-33-135 OF THE 1976 CODE RELATING TO PUNITIVE
25 DAMAGES AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF.
27 Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South
30 SECTION 1. Title 15 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:
32 “CHAPTER 34
34 Punitive Damages
36 Section 15-34-10. Subject to the provisions of this chapter,
37 punitive damages may be awarded in a civil action to punish a
38 defendant for wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct and to deter the
39 defendant and others from committing similar wrongful acts.
41 Section 15-34-20. As used in this chapter:
1 (1) „Claimant‟ means a party, including a plaintiff,
2 counterclaimant, cross-claimant, or third-party plaintiff, seeking
3 recovery of punitive damages.
4 (2) „Compensatory damages‟ includes nominal damages.
5 (3) „Defendant‟ means a party, including a
6 counterdefendant, cross-defendant, or third-party defendant, from
7 whom a claimant seeks relief with respect to punitive damages.
8 (4) „Fraud‟ does not include constructive fraud unless an
9 element of intent is present.
10 (5) „Malice‟ means a sense of personal ill will toward the
11 claimant that activated or incited the defendant to perform the act
12 or undertake the conduct that resulted in harm to the claimant.
13 (6) „Punitive damages‟ means extracompensatory damages
14 awarded for the purposes set forth in Section 15-34-10.
15 (7) „Wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct‟ means the
16 conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the
17 rights and safety of others, which the defendant knows or should
18 know are reasonably likely to result in injury, damage, or other
19 harm. „Wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct‟ means more than
20 gross negligence.
22 Section 15-34-30. (A) This chapter applies to every claim for
23 punitive damages, regardless of whether the claim for relief is
24 based on a statutory or a common-law right of action or based in
25 equity. In an action subject to this chapter, in whole or in part, the
26 provisions of this chapter prevail over any other provision of law
27 to the contrary.
28 (B) The provisions of this chapter do not apply to actions
29 brought under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.
31 Section 15-34-40. (A) Punitive damages may be awarded only
32 if the claimant proves that the defendant is liable for compensatory
33 damages and that one of the following aggravating factors was
34 present and was related to the injury for which compensatory
35 damages were awarded:
36 (1) fraud;
37 (2) malice; or
38 (3) wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct.
39 (B) The claimant must prove the existence of an aggravating
40 factor by clear and convincing evidence.
41 (C) Punitive damages shall not be awarded against a person
42 solely on the basis of vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of
43 another. Punitive damages may be awarded against a person only
1 if that person participated in the conduct constituting the
2 aggravating factor giving rise to the punitive damages or if, in the
3 case of a corporation, the officers, directors, or managers of the
4 corporation participated in or condoned the conduct constituting
5 the aggravating factor giving rise to punitive damages.
6 (D) Punitive damages shall not be awarded against a person
7 solely for breach of contract.
9 Section 15-34-50. A claimant must elect, prior to judgment,
10 between punitive damages awarded pursuant to the provisions of
11 this chapter or any other remedy pursuant to another statute that
12 provides for multiple damages.
14 Section 15-34-60. (A) In all actions seeking an award of
15 punitive damages, the trier of fact shall determine the amount of
16 punitive damages separately from the amount of compensation for
17 all other damages.
18 (B) Except as provided in subsection (D), punitive damages
19 awarded against a defendant shall not exceed three times the
20 amount of compensatory damages or two hundred fifty thousand
21 dollars, whichever is greater. If a trier of fact returns a verdict for
22 punitive damages in excess of the maximum amount specified
23 under this subsection, the trial court shall reduce the award and
24 enter judgment for punitive damages in the maximum amount.
25 (C) The provisions of subsection (B) of this section shall not be
26 made known to the trier of fact through any means, including voir
27 dire, the introduction into evidence, argument, or instructions to
28 the jury.
29 (D) The provisions of subsection (B) of this section do not
30 apply to a claim for punitive damages for injury or harm arising
31 from a defendant‟s operation of a motor vehicle if the actions of
32 the defendant in operating the motor vehicle would give rise to an
33 offense of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor,
34 drugs, or like substances.
36 Section 15-34-70. Upon the motion of a defendant, the issues
37 of liability for compensatory damages and the amount of
38 compensatory damages, if any, shall be tried separately from the
39 issues of liability for punitive damages and the amount of punitive
40 damages, if any. Evidence relating solely to punitive damages
41 shall not be admissible until the trier of fact has determined that
42 the defendant is liable for compensatory damages and has
43 determined the amount of compensatory damages. The same trier
1 of fact that tried the issues relating to compensatory damages shall
2 try the issues relating to punitive damages.
4 Section 15-34-80. (A) In determining the amount of
5 punitive damages, if any, to be awarded, the trier of fact:
6 (1) shall consider the purposes of punitive damages set forth
7 in Section 15-34-10; and
8 (2) may consider only that evidence that relates to the
10 (a) the reprehensibility of the defendant‟s motives and
12 (b) the likelihood, at the relevant time, of serious harm;
13 (c) the degree of the defendant‟s awareness of the
14 probable consequences of its conduct;
15 (d) the duration of the defendant‟s conduct;
16 (e) the actual damages suffered by the claimant;
17 (f) any concealment by the defendant of the facts or
18 consequences of its conduct;
19 (g) the existence and frequency of any similar past
20 conduct by the defendant;
21 (h) whether the defendant profited from the conduct;
22 (i) the defendant‟s ability to pay punitive damages, as
23 evidenced by its revenues or net worth.
24 (B) In a jury trial, the court shall instruct the jury with regard to
25 items (1) and (2) of Section 15-34-80(A).
27 Section 15-34-90. The court shall award reasonable attorney‟s
28 fees, resulting from the defense against the punitive damages
29 claim, against a claimant who files a claim for punitive damages
30 that the claimant knows or should have known is frivolous or
31 malicious. The court shall award reasonable attorney‟s fees
32 against a defendant who asserts a defense in a punitive damages
33 claim that the defendant knows or should have known is frivolous
34 or malicious.
36 Section 15-34-100. When reviewing the evidence regarding a
37 finding by the trier of fact concerning liability for punitive
38 damages in accordance with Section 15-34-40(A), or regarding the
39 amount of punitive damages awarded, the trial court shall state in a
40 written opinion its reasons for upholding or disturbing the finding
41 or award. In doing so, the court shall address with specificity the
42 evidence, or lack thereof, as it bears on the liability for or the
1 amount of punitive damages, in light of the requirements of this
4 Section 15-34-110. A demand for punitive damages must be
5 stated specifically, except for the amount, and the aggravating
6 factor that supports the award of punitive damages must be averred
7 with particularity. The amount of damages must be pled in
8 accordance with applicable court rules adopted by the Supreme
11 SECTION 2. Section 15-33-135 of the 1976 Code is repealed.
13 SECTION 3. The provisions of this act are severable. If a portion
14 of this act is declared unconstitutional or the application of this act
15 to a person or circumstance is held invalid, the remaining portions
16 and their applications to a person or circumstance are valid.
18 SECTION 4. This act takes effect July 1, 1999, and applies to
19 claims arising on or after that date.