Boiter v. SCDOT et al – $1.2 million award under the SCTCA

In Boiter v. SCDOT and SCDPS, decided June 6, 2011, the Supreme Court held that there are two “occurrences” under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act when there are two independent and separate acts of negligence committed by two separate agencies.
The SCTCA limits liability of a government agency to $300,000 per loss, and $600,000 per occurrence, regardless of how many agencies are involved. In this case, the Boiters filed four separate lawsuits, each suing SCDOT and SCDPS for their negligence in failing to maintain a traffic light which resulted in a motorcycle accident.

The Boiters filed four separate lawsuits against South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) (collectively, Respondents), alleging negligence in their failure to prevent the accident. With respect to SCDOT, the Boiters alleged SCDOT failed to implement an appropriate re-lamping policy to replace bulbs in traffic signals before they burn out. With respect to SCDPS, the Boiters alleged that a citizen’s call one hour and twenty-seven minutes prior to the accident reporting the outage should have resulted in SCDPS notifying a trooper to report to the scene and direct traffic. The negligence of both agencies is undisputed in this appeal. At trial, the jury found in favor of the Boiters and awarded each of them a total of 1.875 million dollars.

Under Section 15-78-30(g) of the South Carolina Code (2005), “occurrence” is defined as an “unfolding sequence of events which proximately flow from a single act of negligence.” If the defendants’ acts combine to form one act of negligence, then it is considered one occurrence and there is one cap of $600,000. However, where, as here, there are “two separate and distinct acts of negligence involving two separate and distinct entities together with separate verdicts against each of them,” there are two occurrences and two separate caps of $600,000.
The Circuit Court limited the Boiters’ damages to $300,000 apiece, defining the negligent acts of SCDPS and of SCDOT as one occurrence. The S.C. Supreme Court reversed, holding that because there were two separate acts of negligence that were committed by two separate agencies, there were two occurrences which increased the cap for each Plaintiff to $600,000 (a total of $1.2 million).

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