Beware the violation of a Rule of the Road and Punitive Damages
In South Carolina, the courts have held that the violation of a statute (Rule of the Road) is sufficient evidence of willfulness, recklessness or wantonness to require the judge to submit the issue of punitive damages to a jury. In Austin v. Specialty Transportation Services, 258 S.C. 298 (2004), the court held :“The causative violation of a statute constitutes negligence per se and is evidence of recklessness and willfulness, requiring the submission of the issue of punitive damages to the jury.” Wise, 315 S.C. at 276, 433 S.E.2d at 859.Violation of a statute does not constitute recklessness, willfulness, and wantonness per se, but is some evidence the defendant acted recklessly, willfully, and wantonly. Id. The jury determines whether a party has been reckless, willful, and wanton. However, even in cases involving disputed liability, punitive damages are sustainable if there is any evidence supporting a violation of a statute. See, e.g., id. (evidence of a violation of an applicable statute is a proper basis for submitting punitive damages to the trial jury); Bethea v. Pedro Land, Inc., 290 S.C. 341, 350 S.E.2d 392 (Ct.App.1986)"
Thus, the threshold for submission of punitive damages to a jury is very low in South Carolina Courts.