Attorney calls for change after deadly crash involving Charleston County deputy

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 9:09 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Lawmakers are working to change a law that limits how much money a family could receive if a loved one is hurt or killed in an incident involving a city, county or state employee, and some believe this could be the year the state’s General Assembly takes action.

The South Carolina Tort Claims Act puts a limit on how much money a family could be awarded by the court system, and one Lowcountry lawyer argues it has hindered his efforts to help his clients after tragedies.

Attorney Mark Bringardener said he was forced to file suit against the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office last week after his efforts to seek a settlement were ignored.

The case involves the family of Ronald Jenkins who died after a Charleston County Sheriff’s deputy crashed into his car last May.

Bringardner said he believes the Tort Claims Act’s current limitations make it harder for families to pursue justice and gain closure.

“It’s far bigger than a Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputy killing a member of the community. It goes far beyond that and affects everybody in every county, city, all over the state of South Carolina and needs to be changed,” Bringardener said. “The accountability and the sense of justice the civil system can provide is limited to money, and that’s the system we have. The criminal system can deal with punishing the individual defendant, the deputy in this case who was charged with reckless homicide, but that’s not going to effect any change with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.”

Some state lawmakers are now fighting to increase the amount of money that can be won in such cases. Senator Robbie Sabb believes the current law is inadequate.

“If six people were injured in one automobile accident, the largest amount any single individual could get under the new law would be $500,000, and the amount they could cumulatively collect would be increased from $600,000 to $1 million,” Sabb said.

Those caps are meant to protect the state and municipalities from going bankrupt fighting legal claims.

“There’s been resistance from some of the municipalities. They were concerned if the limits are raised too high, then it creates budget restraints,” Sabb said. “It’s a reasonable balance for us to strike to help those injured persons but also not put unnecessary strain on the municipalities or the state.”

Bringardner argued an increase in those caps would also hold government agencies more accountable for the injuries and deaths they may cause.

“Because there’s a limited recovery in some situations, the county or city or state that causes the harm is disincentivized to make any safety changes to its policies and procedures at a systemic level because they know at the end of the day they don’t face any real consequence. It’s only the consequence being paid by the insurance company, which is capped at a certain amount,” Bringardener said.

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