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No-Fault State vs. At-Fault State: Which Is South Carolina and What Does It Mean for You?

July 19, 2022

: Car Accidents

You’re sitting in your car at a red light when all of a sudden, crash — a distracted driver rear-ends you because they were texting instead of paying attention to the road. Now, not only is your car damaged, but you also have painful whiplash symptoms that will require multiple doctor visits, a neck brace, and time off from work.

Unfortunately, collisions like this (and worse) are an all-too-common occurrence in South Carolina. In 2021, South Carolina had the fifth-highest car accident rate in the United States. 

If you’ve recently been involved in a car accident, you’re likely concerned about how your insurance company is going to handle the situation. When it comes to car insurance, a key factor is whether you live in a ‘no-fault’ state or an ‘at-fault’ state. So, in this article, we’ll discuss the distinction between ‘no-fault’ vs. ‘at-fault’ — and how this will ultimately affect you.

No-Fault vs. At-Fault: What’s the Difference?

South Carolina is an at-fault state. But what exactly does that mean? The terms ‘at-fault’ and ‘no-fault’ refer to a state’s laws on car insurance and liability — particularly in accidents that involve an injury. To understand the difference between ‘at-fault’ vs. ‘no-fault’, let’s break down each scenario in detail:

Car Insurance and Liability in At-Fault States

In at-fault states (such as South Carolina), the driver that caused the accident is responsible for paying damages to the victim — and that includes both property damage and injury-related expenses such as medical bills.

Assuming the at-fault driver is insured, the victim of the crash is entitled to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to receive compensation. However, if you’re involved in a crash and the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, your own insurance policy may cover you as well.

The victim can also sue the at-fault driver in court if they cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company. In many cases, this may be the preferable course of action, which is why you should consult a South Carolina car accident lawyer if you’ve been injured in a car accident. 

Car Insurance and Liability in No-Fault States

In no-fault states, the main difference is that, while the at-fault driver is still liable for the property damage they caused, injuries are covered by the victim’s own insurance policy. In other words, if you’re injured in a crash, it’s up to your insurance company to compensate you for your injuries, regardless of which driver was at fault. 

Again, even under the no-fault system, the driver who caused the crash is still responsible for the property damage that resulted from the accident. But injuries fall under the personal injury protection (PIP) provision of each party’s respective insurance policy. 

Unlike at-fault laws, the no-fault system reduces the potential to file a personal injury lawsuit. Barring exceptions, you typically won’t be able to sue the at-fault driver for injuries you incurred from a car accident. 

In South Carolina, it’s possible to purchase no-fault PIP insurance to further protect yourself — even though South Carolina is an at-fault state. This can help you avoid relying on the other driver’s insurance policy if you’re injured in a car accident.

How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

The outcome of a car accident insurance claim or lawsuit depends largely on which driver is found to be at fault. In South Carolina, fault is based on four fundamental criteria:

  • Duty – the driver was obligated to act in a certain way
  • Breach – the driver failed to act according to their obligations
  • Damages – failure to act dutifully resulted in damages
  • Causation – damages were a direct result of driver negligence

Typically, when an accident occurs, police will arrive at the scene and document what they observe in an accident report. However, this report does not serve as an official determination of who was at fault.

When the insurance companies receive the accident claim, their adjusters will analyze the police report along with any additional evidence they can gather, such as driver interviews and medical records. The claims adjusters will then decide how to assign fault for the accident. However, as mentioned above, if an agreement cannot be reached, the case may go to court and a jury will determine who’s at fault.

Fault is not always placed entirely on one driver. In some cases, both drivers are assigned a percentage of fault — and this ultimately dictates the amount of compensation each driver can receive. For example, if the other driver is found to be 80% at-fault, then you would be entitled to receive compensation for 80% of the damages you incurred.

What Happens If You’re At-Fault? And If You Aren’t?

Since South Carolina is an at-fault state, if you are deemed at-fault in a car accident, you will be liable to pay damages to the other driver(s) involved. Conversely, if you are not at fault, you will be entitled to receive damages. But, again, sometimes fault is divided between drivers based on the details of the accident — in which case, the responsibility to pay damages will be divided as well. 

Determining fault in a car accident is often a complicated matter that involves a detailed investigation. And, while the matter will initially be handled by the insurance companies, the case can turn into a legal battle — which might be your best course of action depending on the circumstances. 

Given the complexity and legal ramifications of a car accident, it’s highly advisable to consult an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney. A lawyer will serve as your advocate to help you minimize your fault and maximize your compensation. 

If you’ve recently been in a car accident, contact Bernstein & Bernstein for a free consultation. Our knowledgeable Columbia, SC accident attorneys are here to answer any questions you have and help you receive the compensation you deserve. 

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