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Guest Column: Fix South Carolina’s Jury Form

Rick Todd: “No conservative can call this responsible. No liberal can call this justice.”

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South Carolina juries are limited to assigning financial responsibility to compensate the injured only among parties listed on the jury form. But what if all at-fault parties aren’t listed? The answer is: The legislature has said it doesn’t matter. The jury must account for 100 percent of fault – but only among those listed, no matter their degree of fault.

We disagree with that flawed model – which is costing all of you.

We call on the S.C. General Assembly to close these doors of injustice – then re-open them to transparency, accountability and responsibility so the jury can properly perform its constitutionally mandated duty.

Here’s how the injury lawsuit game is played: The first move in lawyers’ vehicle accident playbook is to find out how much insurance might be on the table and who’s got it. They calculate percentages of fault amongst all the parties. Then they strategically choose who to ignore, who to sue, and who to settle-out – releasing them and shifting their fault to others.

The end game is to single-out and shift fault to the “deepest pocket.” Once that judgement-stacking accumulates to 50 percent or more, that party can be held liable for rest. 




This process is abusive and a burden, forcing too many out-of-pocket and insurance payouts by vulnerable defendants.  To worsen the threat and add leverage, commercial vehicle operators are increasingly facing skyrocketing demands over the fear that a crafty fee-driven trial lawyer can inflame a jury into awarding a nuclear verdict.

Business trucking is mandated to carry high levels of insurance. Most carry more than is required because servicing industrial and consumer demand via public highways is arguably the riskiest, but most essential of all economic endeavors. Insurance exists to provide compensation when mistakes or failures occur. But it’s unsustainable to expect the “supply chain” to shoulder the fault or misfortunes of others; or worse, to provide jackpots for victims and windfalls for lawyers.

Insurance coverage, pricing, and risk management have become too unpredictable. The market is roiling with companies leaving or limiting coverage and pricing-in this uncertainty across all lines, consumer and commercial. With every movement, each link in a product or service’s supply chain adds this insidious additional compounding cost.

This predicament was ruled into law by a progressive-minded 1991 S.C. Supreme Court – and lingers due to flawed 2005 “compromise” legislation. In 2017, a different set of justices split over the bill’s intent and technicalities, but seemed to imply the status quo wasn’t necessarily good, fair public policy. This time they deferred to the legislature to clarify and close the defective process.



In the S.C. Senate, S. 533, the “S.C. Justice Act” would answer that challenge by bringing accountability to the public record so juries can dispatch justice without prejudice via a complete jury form – one listing all at-fault parties. Its sponsors include the Senate’s president, its majority leader, every committee chairman but one, and a brave no-nonsense, non-lawyer Democrat. A majority of the chamber are sponsors.

Unfortunately, entrenched interests have threatened to filibuster the bill. They would stifle the state’s legislative agenda to block this critical reform.

Our modern, complex, interconnected economy needs attorneys. But the current system is wickedly unfair and perversely incentivizes the monetization of mistakes.

Inaction has provoked a crisis for some and a slow but intensifying burn for others simply due to the nature of their operations. Certainly, it has created a vicious confrontational cycle for all. No conservative can call this responsible. No liberal can call this justice.

Our Senate must resolve to cure this specific injustice immediately upon convening in January by adopting fair-share doctrines like our sister states. This will help preserve South Carolinians’ names on the doors of businesses and vehicles, and level not only our courtrooms, but the competitive playing field. Then, they owe a study of the whole “system.”

We have a new slogan: “Nothing Without Trucking.” And there is nothing our legislature can do in 2024 that will have a more positive impact on public trust and social inflation than to “Fix the Jury Form.”



Rick Todd is a Columbia, S.C. native who began his career at SCTA in 1979 upon graduation from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism. He has been CEO of the organization since 1988. Rick has chaired, held leadership positions, and received numerous distinguished awards from state and national associations and organizations.



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