South Carolina Supreme Court Refuses Non-Settling Defendants’ Attempt to Add Settling Party as a Third-Party Defendant in Car Crash Case

Suppose that three people are involved in an automobile accident, and the parties agree that one of the three was completely faultless with regard to the cause of the crash.

How should the issue of fault be resolved between the remaining two drivers? What if the innocent party settles his negligence claim with one of the drivers but not the other?

The state’s highest court was recently called upon to rule in a case involving such a situation.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case under consideration by the South Carolina Supreme Court, the plaintiff was a man who was injured in a motor vehicle accident. He filed a negligence claim against the defendants, a trucker and the trucker’s employers, seeking compensation for injuries he suffered when a third party (with whom the plaintiff had settled prior to his lawsuit against the trucker) pulled out into traffic in order to see past a disabled commercial vehicle that the trucker had parked along the shoulder of the road near a gas station where the third party had stopped, thereby colliding with the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The defendants filed a third-party complaint against the motorist with whom the plaintiff had previously settled. The trial court granted the motorist’s motion for summary judgment as to the defendants’ third-party claims. The defendants filed a direct appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Decision of the State Supreme Court

The court affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to the motorist, rejecting the defendants’ argument that the lower tribunal had committed a reversible error when it failed to permit the defendants to add the motorist as a party defendant who could be included on the verdict form as a party to whom fault could be apportioned.

In so holding, the court observed that, with the South Carolina Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act, the legislature “abrogated pure joint and several liability for tortfeasors who are less than 50% at fault” and instead “direct[ed] the finder of fact to apportion 100% of the fault for an accident between the plaintiff and each defendant whose actions were the proximate cause of an indivisible injury.”

The court noted that South Carolina Code § 15-38-15 sets forth not only a detailed method of apportioning fault “among defendants” but also gives a non-settling defendant the right to argue the “empty chair defense” and to offset the value of a settlement received by the plaintiff from the empty chair tortfeasor.

Get Dependable Legal Advice Concerning a South Carolina Car Accident

Car wreck cases are often much more complicated than they initially appear. Multiple claims, multiple parties, and competing theories of liability can turn a “simple” case into a complex, time-consuming matter that demands an experienced professional, if the plaintiff is to have any hope of a reasonable settlement or favorable judgment. To talk to a seasoned South Carolina motor vehicle accident lawyer, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at 864-582-5118. We offer a free consultation in our Spartanburg or Greenville office, so there is no reason to delay in talking to an attorney about your case.

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