South Carolina Court of Appeals Holds that Negligent Party is Not Entitled to Setoff for Amount Paid by Second Tortfeasor

Pursing fair compensation for injuries suffered due to another party’s negligence can be difficult. In addition to being required to offer credible evidence on issues such as duty, breach of duty, damages, and proximate cause, the plaintiff may also face difficulties caused by the various insurance companies that are involved in the case.

If a negligent party is not covered by a liability insurance policy, a South Carolina personal injury case can be even more complicated. While insurance companies can fight tooth and nail against a finding of liability against their insured, at least they have the financial resources to pay a judgment when one is finally entered (at least in most cases). Unfortunately, this is not always true of those who do not have insurance.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unreported case, the plaintiffs were injured by the negligence of the defendant and another individual. After the Orangeburg County Circuit Court granted a default judgment to the plaintiffs, the defendant filed a motion for entry of satisfaction of judgment. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had made a mistake in denying her motion because its action had resulted in a double recovery for the plaintiffs because it did not offset a default judgment paid by a second tortfeasor. The defendant also argued that it was an error for the lower tribunal to determine that a default damages hearing did not establish the total amount of damages arising from an indivisible injury.

Decision of the Court

The State of South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court began its analysis by reviewing South Carolina Code § 15-38-50, which provides that, when a release is given to one of two or more joint tortfeasors, this does not discharge any of the other tortfeasors from liability unless the terms so provide. According to the court, the statute represented the legislature’s balance between the favoring of settlements and the prevention of a double recovery – but not necessarily in every case involving multiple defendants.

The circuit court had reasoned that § 15-38-50 applied when one defendant settled before a jury’s verdict had been entered against a non-settling defendant. In the current case, a different situation was presented. Default judgments had been entered against both of the tortfeasors before the plaintiffs settled their cases against either of them. Thus, the court of appeals decided that the defendant was not entitled to a setoff under the statute.

The court also noted that the defendant maintained that, even if the statute did not apply, she was still entitled to a setoff under the principles of common law equity. Since this argument was not properly preserved for appellate review, however, the court declined to consider it. Since the defendant was not entitled to a setoff, the court held that she was required to satisfy the full amounts of the default judgments entered against her.

Contact a South Carolina Injury Attorney

Being involved in a serious accident or losing a loved one due to another party’s negligence can be very challenging. If you are in this situation, the best course of action is to contact an assertive, experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney as soon as possible. At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville, we fight for injured people every day. Call us at 864-582-5118 to see how we can help in your case.

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