Tort Reform Fails in Current SC Senate Legislative Session

By Paul Gable

The South Carolina Senate failed to advance tort reform legislation this year despite considerable lobbying by small business groups.

Called the South Carolina Justice Act, the bill would have changed the state tort reform law to a position where a defendant in a tort action would be financially liable only for their percentage of fault. The current law can leave one defendant on the hook to pay all awarded damages regardless of their percentage of fault.

At the time of its introduction into the Senate last year, Tom Mullikan, President and General Counsel for the South Carolina Coalition for Lawsuit Reform, said, “Without this legislation, South Carolina may lose economic development projects to neighboring states like Georgia and North Carolina where liability laws are more balanced.”

“The current system in South Carolina penalizes businesses, especially small businesses, at the expense of a handful of trial attorneys,” said Elizabeth Trenbeath, current NFIB Leadership Committee chair. “My business is always one lawsuit away from going out of business. NFIB is known as the voice of small business throughout the nation.

The bill was introduced by Senate President Tom Alexander and cosponsored by a number of Senate committee chairs. Nevertheless, the bill lay in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Horry County Sen. Luke Rankin, for over a year before being moved to the Senate floor for debate and ultimately failing on a vote to close debate and move the bill forward for a vote.

During the Senate debate, Rankin defended the current law on the books and warned senators not “to throw the baby out with the bathwater”, referring to any changes in current law.

Many South Carolina small businesses have registered complaints in recent years about increased insurance premiums and reduced insurance coverage, leaving them perceived as a target perceived to have deep pockets in lawsuits.

It is anticipated a tort reform bill will again be introduced in the next legislative session. However, something will have to happen to change the way it is received in the Senate.

Comments are closed.