Gov. Nikki Haley and her legislative allies turned up the heat on the state Senate today to pass a bill capping damages in civil lawsuits.
A House-approved version of the bill, dubbed tort reform, would cap punitive damages at $350,000 or three times compensatory payments, whichever is greater. The bill has lingered on the Senate floor for weeks, with some lawmakers – particularly Democrats – threatening a filibuster.
Joined by some business officials, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, and Senate supporters, Republican Haley said she had spoken with companies waiting on the Senate to cap lawsuit awards before announcing new jobs in the state. Haley also warned lawmakers that tort reform is an item on the end-of-session report cards that she will issue lawmakers.
"To simplify this down: The senators that vote against capping are supporting trial lawyers," Haley said. "The senators voting for a cap are supporting businesses.
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"We don't want South Carolina to be a free-for-all state."
State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, noted South Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that does not cap damages, adding businesses compare such factors when choosing where to locate.
In an op-ed published in The State on Wednesday, Mike Hemlepp, director of the S.C. Association for Justice, a trial lawyer trade group, argued the bill would strip protections from small businesses who sue larger businesses.
"No one should be able to buy immunity from the consequences of bad behavior or purchase an exemption from justice," Hemlepp wrote. "No one should be too big or too rich to be accountable."