Liability Cap Increase Proposed

At one time, South Carolina’s cities and towns could not be sued when a person was injured. Municipal employees also could not be sued for any action they took while performing an official duty. This protection, known as sovereign immunity, ended in 1986, when the General Assembly replaced it with qualified, limited liability by passing the SC Tort Claims Act.

The law gives South Carolinians the ability to bring suit against their state, county or municipality, but only in certain circumstances, and only for limited amounts of money. Currently, a person suing over a single occurrence of negligence cannot recover damages of more than $300,000. The total damages recovered from the government for any single occurrence can be no more than $600,000. These liability caps remain in place no matter how many individual claimants are involved.

The caps were set at their present level in 1997. In the current legislative session, lawmakers have proposed increasing the caps.  A bill being debated this legislative session, S82, would increase the limit of a loss to one person from a single occurrence to $500,000. It would increase the total limit for a loss arising out of a single occurrence to $1 million. 

For the 130 municipalities in South Carolina that are SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members, the bill is projected to serve as a factor that would increase premiums if it passes. In recent years, premiums have been affected by an increase in catastrophic events since 2015, as well as increasingly expensive reinsurance markets. These trends are expected to continue. Reinsurance the process by which insurers share risks to help reduce the costs of major claim expenses, is an important and necessary way to protect cities and towns from catastrophic loss. Some of SCMIRF’s peers in other states have experienced as much as 50% increases in reinsurance costs. 

S82 was prefiled in the Senate in December 2020 and is being debated during the 2021-2022 session of the General Assembly. For the latest action on S82, visit the Association’s Legislative Tracking System. Keep up with legislative action that impacts cities and towns by subscribing to the From the Dome to Your Home weekly report.