The amount of insurance coverage available in a South Carolina car accident case is one of the most important considerations in determining the overall value of a claim filed by an injured person or the family of an accident victim.
As a practical matter, if there is no insurance, recovery of fair compensation is next to impossible. (Hence the expression, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”) But, what happens when the defendant does have liability insurance but the insurance company becomes insolvent?
Facts of the Case
In a case recently considered on appeal, the plaintiffs were the personal representatives of the estate of a truck driver who was killed in a fatal, multi-vehicle accident that occurred in 2008. After a decade of litigation involving several different defendants and multiple theories of liability, the issue before the Bamberg County Circuit Court was the amount of money damages that the defendant insurance guaranty association owed the plaintiffs after one of the insurance companies involved in the case became insolvent.
The parties stipulated that the total amount of damages to which the plaintiffs would have otherwise been entitled for their decedent’s wrongful death was $800,000 and that they had received $376,622 from other parties (two co-defendants’ insurance company and the workers’ compensation carrier for the decedent’s employer). The intermediate court of appeals held that the South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association Act unambiguously required the defendant to pay the plaintiffs the sum of $300,000 (the statutory limit for a claim filed under the Act).
Decision of the Court
The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that the court of appeals had correctly held that the Act required that the amount of settlement proceeds received by the plaintiffs from the other parties were to be offset from the total amount of their damages rather than from the statutory cap. (The defendant had argued that, because the offset was greater than the statutory cap, it owed nothing to the plaintiffs.)
However, the court found that the Act was ambiguous. Noting that it was not bound by a lower court’s statutory interpretation because such was a question of law that was not afforded any deference, the state supreme court agreed that the plaintiffs were required to exhaust all other coverage and limits before seeking payment under the Act. According to the supreme court, the key phrase “amount payable on a covered claim” was not defined in the Act but, yet, “must mean something.” Looking at the statute as a whole, the court found that the better-reasoned interpretation of the phrase was the claimant(s)’ overall damages, not the defendant’s obligation on a covered claim.
According to the court, it was not have been reasonable to conclude that the legislature envisioned the set-off provision at issue to completely eliminate a litigant’s ability to recover anything simply because his partial recovery from other tortfeasors was greater than $300,000.
Call a South Carolina Injury Attorney
If you have lost a loved one in a South Carolina tractor-trailer accident, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118. We have offices in Spartanburg and Greenville.
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