State House

Guest Column: South Carolina Liability Laws Desperately Need Reform

“When I opened my doors many years ago, I had no idea the biggest threat to my business was the threat of litigation …”

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by BROWN BETHUNE

South Carolina is a great state to live and work in, which is why I chose to operate my business here. However, lately South Carolina has become inhospitable to small businesses and it’s time for change before business owners like myself reach their breaking point.

This legislative session, Senate Bill 533 was introduced and would’ve gone a long way in addressing the inequities that currently exist for business owners in our state. The bill would have ensured that owners such as myself were not held financially liable for criminal actions conducted by individuals on my property. This is because current law in South Carolina allows for the trial bar to game the system at my expense with the threat of costly litigation that could close my doors. What’s worse is often the ones committing the crime pay significantly less in damages than the business owner who didn’t commit the crime.

Isn’t it backwards that businesses can be financially penalized just for operating in the state?

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Sadly, some in the S.C. General Assembly let this bill fail – and as a result small business owners are perplexed but remain hopeful that our state’s lawmakers will prioritize this much needed reform next session.

When I opened my doors many years ago, I had no idea that the biggest threat to my business was the threat of litigation but alas, it is. It’s no secret to those of us who own and operate businesses in South Carolina that our civil justice system is broken and enriches the powerful trial bar while burdening our storefronts and bottom lines with costly litigation and a tort tax. Legal system abuse is a growing problem that needs to be addressed by our lawmakers immediately to keep our state competitive and allow our businesses to thrive.

Because the legislative session adjourned in May, legal reforms will not be enacted this session. Therefore, we must look ahead to next session and call on our lawmakers to prioritize civil justice reform – and to listen to the voices of the small business community that are the backbone of our economy.

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RELATED | ANOTHER SMALL BUSINESS BITES THE DUST

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It’s not just businesses, either. All South Carolinians feel the economic strain of legal system abuse and out-of-control litigation costs. A recent study estimated that legal system abuse costs the average South Carolina household $3,181 each year. It’s clear that individuals, families, businesses, communities, and the local economy are suffering as result of legal system abuse while the trial attorneys who benefit from the litigious nature of our state continue to be enriched.

I may not be a politician or an attorney, but I do know that when our state prioritizes opportunities for frivolous litigation over the economic well-being of our citizens and its businesses that operate here — those priorities are out of sync.

For South Carolina to remain competitive and attract businesses – as well as keep businesses like mine open – we must pass civil justice reforms that would fix these systemic issues that benefit a few at the expense of many.

Our state’s politicians have the chance to rectify these injustices and restore fairness to our state’s civil justice system – and joint and several liability reform is only the beginning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Brown Bethune is a commercial real-estate agent in Horry County, and now serves as Congressional district 7 Real Estate Commissioner for South Carolina.  He has served on Board of Directors for Helping Hands, the Membership Board for Partners Economic Development, and fundraising committees for the Boys Scouts, United Way, March of Dimes and Make-A-Wish Foundation. He and his wife Brenda have three children and two grandchildren.

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2 comments

robert June 11, 2024 at 12:57 pm

I am amazed that local governments aren’t screaming mad about this whole thing due to the inevitable decrease in hospitality tax collections on drink going down with each closure that occurs.

Reply
Observer June 11, 2024 at 4:00 pm

As an insurance defense lawyer, I’m constantly amazed at how many so-called “conservative” legislators are also plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers (remember Alec Murdaugh?) I don’t really see these roles as compatible. Want to solve this problem? Get the PI lawyers out of the statehouse.

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