South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers

Experience You Can Trust in Columbia for the Best Case Outcomes

Auto accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for South Carolinians, as well as for people across the U.S. Although motor vehicle crashes can be caused by a number of different factors, driver errors cause at least 9 out of every 10 car crashes in the U.S. every year.1

This is a distressing fact to consider – because it means that most auto accidents could be prevented if drivers were more careful behind the wheel. What can be far more difficult, however, is being the victim of just one serious car crash. And it only takes one wreck to inflict serious physical, financial and emotional damage on people

At Chappell, Smith & Arden, our Columbia car accident lawyers are here to help accident victims and their families pick up the pieces and recover from car crashes.

We know just how difficult the aftermath of an auto accident can be – and just how important it is to have an experienced advocate on your side, helping you protect your rights to justice and financial recovery.

That’s why our attorneys have dedicated more than two decades to helping car accident victims and their families. Experienced, focused and tireless, our lawyers are prepared to take immediate action to start helping you:

  • Build the strongest possible car accident case
  • Protect the value of your claim to position it for the maximum possible recovery
  • Restore your life.

The rest of this page presents some important information for auto accident victims in South Carolina, including details about:

To get immediate answers about your rights, potential case, and recovery options, call (888) 320-4094 to speak to a Columbia SC car accident attorney at Chappell, Smith & Arden (or email our firm using the contact form on this page). Our attorneys are ready to provide you with the insight and information you need to get on the path to recovery.

Why Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?

The main reason why you should hire a car accident lawyer after you’ve been hurt in a wreck is to ensure that your rights and claim are protected as you move forward.

In fact, while you focus on healing and getting medical treatments, a lawyer can provide essential help and representation, assisting you with things like (but not limited to):

  • Determining all of the parties who are liable for the accident
  • Assembling all of the necessary evidence for your case
  • Navigating the intricacies of the claim process
  • Negotiating settlements and challenging those who attempt to undercut (or avoid making) these payouts
  • Helping you obtain the full amount of compensation you deserve.

In contrast, if you don’t hire a lawyer and, instead, try to financially recover on your own, it’s far more likely that your claim (and your rights) could be compromised by:

  • Mistakes, such as missing claim deadlines
  • Lost evidence, such as misplaced doctor’s bills
  • Insurance companies (or others) who are focused on (and experienced at) minimizing or denying compensation to accident victims.

An attorney will NOT cost you anything upfront. In fact, you will not have to pay a lawyer anything:

  • For an initial consultation, during which you can get helpful legal advice regarding your claim (and what you need to do to protect it as you move forward)
  • Until or unless there is a financial award in your case – This is because our auto accident attorneys work on contingency (meaning we don't get paid unless and until you do). Our contingency-fee representation is intended to help victims avoid incurring additional financial stress as they get on the road to recovery.

No, you will NOT be obligated to pay any legal fees if you don't win your case. Please be aware that, here, when we say “win,” we mean that a financial award has been obtained for your claim (with financial awards referring to either settlements or verdicts).

So, if no compensation is granted for your claim, you will not be responsible for paying us any legal fees. That is our promise to all car accident victims who we represent. And we put that in writing when you decide to hire us.

No, you should not accept any settlement offer before (or without) first talking to a lawyer. The reason is that an attorney can look over the offer and explain whether (or not) it's fair. In fact, you should also be aware that, when it comes to settlement offers for crash victims:

  • Insurance companies commonly lowball offers in the hope (or expectation) that victims don't know their rights and/or that a desperate need for money will push them to just take what's offered.
  • Insurers are not above using tricky tactics to try to compel victims to implicitly accept lesser offers. For instance, insurance companies may just send a check, and cashing that check can constitute the acceptance of an offer (and the end of the claim) – regardless of whether victims were aware that they had accepted the offer.

Bottom line: If you're serious about obtaining the full amount of compensation you're entitled to for the accident, it's in your best interests to consult a lawyer before you accept or decline any settlement offer.

A release of liability is a legally binding form that officially releases the at-fault party (and its insurance company) from any liability for the crash. Once you sign a release of liability, you will not be able to bring any claim or lawsuit against the responsible parties in the future. It's not uncommon for insurance companies to try to get victims to sign a release of liability and settle quickly (usually for less than the victim really deserves). Whether or not you should sign a release of liability will depend on your situation and, specifically, factors like:

  • Whether you have been offered an adequate settlement
  • How soon after the car crash you are being asked to sign this release – Car accident injuries can take time to fully present themselves. Signing a release before the full scope of your injuries is known can mean that you end up losing part of the compensation you deserve (to treat late-presenting injuries like, for instance, back injuries).

Bottom line: If you are asked to sign a release of liability, talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. An attorney can analyze your situation and advise you of your best options for protecting your rights and the value of your claim.

The value of your car accident claim will depend on at least a few different factors, including (but not necessarily limited to):

  • The nature of the negligence involved – South Carolina is a comparative negligence state. This means that car accident victims can be entitled to compensation for their crash-related losses just as long as they were not more negligent than any other involved party. So, even if you did play a role in causing an auto accident, if another party was more negligent and played a bigger role in causing the crash, you can still be awarded compensation (though it will be reduced according to your level of fault). In other words, how the negligence or fault for the crash is split between the involved parties will impact the value of an accident claim.
  • The extent of your injuries and losses – More serious injuries and more extensive losses will typically lead to higher values for car accident cases. This is because, when victims have lost more, it will take more to compensate and restore them. Doctors' bills, vehicle repair bills and even bank statements (showing lost wages) can all be helpful evidence when it's time to prove your crash-related losses.
  • The strength or viability of your claim – What you can (and cannot) prove matters when it's time to work out the value of your case. This is due to the fact that, if you can't prove that another party was at fault – or just how extensively the crash injured or harmed you, it opens up room to argue that maybe you were at least partially at fault and/or you weren't that badly hurt or harmed by the auto wreck. That, in turn, can lead to lower offers.

Bottom line: Talk to a lawyer to find out how much your car accident case is worth. An attorney can go over the details of your crash and claim and realistically evaluate it.

Yes, you likely can sue the drunk driver who caused your crash. You should, however, know that you may also be able to seek compensation – prior to filing a suit and going to court – via an insurance claim with the drunk driver's insurance carrier (provided, of course, that the drunk driver is insured). Insurers are usually eager to settle drunk driving accident cases because they know they'll face an uphill battle in court (and could be ordered to pay giant verdicts to sympathetic victims). Another important consideration here is the cost and time associated with filing a suit and going to court. In many cases, it can be in victims' best interest to try to pursue an out-of-court, pre-trial settlement so they can:

  • Obtain the financial recoveries much sooner
  • Avoid dragging a case out for months (or maybe even longer)
  • Start putting the accident behind them and moving on with their lives.

If insurers fail to offer adequate settlements, however, going to court may be necessary – and a better option for victims.

Bottom line: A lawyer can explain your best options for pursuing financial recovery after reviewing the specifics of your case and understanding your needs and goals. The key takeaway here is that drunk driving accident victims do have options for taking civil action to hold a negligent motorist liable – and the choice they make can impact how soon their case is resolved and how much compensation they end up receiving.

Yes. The statute of limitations, which is the legal time limit for filing a case, is set by state law. South Carolina law sets the statute of limitations for car accident cases at three years. So, a victim has three years from the date of the accident – or from the date on which the crash-related injuries are discovered – to file a claim for compensation. This applies to crashes that cause injuries, as well as fatal auto accidents. Missing this filing deadline can mean forfeiting a claim for compensation (as the court will likely dismiss a car accident case that's filed after the statute of limitations has expired).

Bottom line: Don't wait to move forward with an auto accident claim. Filing as soon as possible is key to not running out the statute of limitations. And it can even have the added benefit of strengthening cases – because in the immediate aftermath of the crash (rather than years down the line):

  • There tends to be more available evidence (e.g., accident photos, doctors' reports and bills, etc.)
  • People's memories (both those of the victims and any witnesses) will still be clear.

Being aware of these facts is just as important as being aware of what to do right after a car accident happens – because it could end up making a big difference in the strength and outcome of your claim.

Financial recoveries for car accidents are intended to restore victims for the injuries, damage and losses they have sustained as a result of a crash. As such, these compensatory damages can include awards for the following types of losses.

What Types of Things Can I Get Reimbursed for after a Car Accident?

Pain & Suffering

Intended to compensate victims for the physical and mental pain caused by a car crash, damages for pain and suffering can cover anything from temporary and permanent disability to depression, anxiety and disfigurement. Doctors’ reports and medical records can be helpful in establishing the extent of pain and suffering caused by car accidents.

Property Damage

Vehicle repair bills or the cost of replacing a totaled vehicle can be covered by awards for property damage. The cost of repairing or replacing other personal items that were damaged in the car accident (like, for example, cellphones or laptops) may also be included in these damages.

Punitive Damages for Car Accidents

Punitive damages are awards issued to punish the responsible party (rather than to compensate a victim for his or her losses). Rarely awarded, punitive damages may come into play if the negligence that caused the car accident was especially heinous.

The possibility of punitive damages can be powerful leverage during settlement negotiations (as it can motivate at-fault parties to settle out of court in order to try to avoid having to pay these awards on top of the compensatory damages they’re already paying victims).

Medical Bills

These damages can compensate victims for ambulance, emergency room and hospital bills, as well as surgeries, medications and medical equipment, needed to treat the crash injuries. They can also include awards to cover future treatment needs.

Lost Wages

If the car accident injuries prevent a victim from being able to work (or if they cause a victim to have to miss work to treat the injuries), compensation for that victim can cover these lost wages – both past and future.

Funeral and Burial Costs

When car accidents have fatal outcomes, awards can include compensation for the costs of laying a loved one to rest.

Loss of Enjoyment

Also referred to as “loss of consortium,” awards for loss of enjoyment compensate victims for the damage their family relationships have suffered as a result of the crash-related injuries. Commonly, this type of loss refers to the loss of physical intimacy between spouses.

Emotional Distress

Difficult to quantify, awards for emotional distress are meant to compensate victims for the psychological harm caused by an accident. Therapists and psychiatrists can be helpful when it’s time to establish the extent of emotional distress that crash victims have suffered.

I Have Been in a Car Accident. What Should I Do?

To protect yourself, your rights and a potential claim after an auto accident happens, here’s what you should do (when and if possible):

1 Determine if anyone has severe or life-threatening injuries – Right after the crash occurs, figure out if anyone has been seriously (or fatally) injured. If so, call 911 immediately.


2 Get to a safe area – If the accident happened in the middle of traffic, move to a shoulder where you can safely wait while the next steps are taken. If, however, the accident occurred out of the path of traffic and there’s no risk in leaving the vehicles where they are, it’s better to leave them as is (because that can be helpful to the investigation and the fault determination).


3Call the police – Police can help clear the wreckage and make sure injured parties get the medical care they need (officers can also facilitate step 5 below). Additionally, police will investigate the crash and write an accident report detailing their findings. This report can be essential to establishing liability for an auto accident.


4Do not apologize or admit fault for the accident – Doing this can compromise a future claim and maybe even make you liable for the accident (even if the apology or admission of fault was accidental). So don’t do it after the accident, regardless of whether you’re talking to other drivers, witnesses, police and/or insurance company agents. Never admit fault.


5 Exchange info with the other involved motorist(s) – This should include identity and contact information (like names and phone numbers), as well as vehicle-related information (like the make/model of each involved car and the license plate number) and driving/insurance-related information (like each motorist’s driver’s license number, insurance carrier and policy number).

6Get witnesses’ contact info – If there were any witnesses (and you weren’t too severely injured), get the name and contact info for each witness. When you do this, it can be helpful to take a few notes about what that witness saw (and whether anything was seen that could help determine or prove fault).


7 Take pictures – Snap as many picture as you can of your vehicle, your injuries, the accident scene and the other involved vehicle(s). These photos can be invaluable later, as they can show key details about what caused the accident – and how much damage the accident caused.


8 See a doctor – Regardless of whether you are feeling hurt after a car crash, see a doctor and get checked out. Shock and adrenaline can mask injuries, and some injuries can present themselves in the days (maybe even weeks) following the crash. If you see a doctor, you can get immediate treatment and avoid any serious complications. This will also be helpful in officially documenting the nature of the injuries you suffered in the accident.


9 Write down your account of the accident – As soon as you can after the accident, write down a detailed account of what you witnessed and experienced before, during and after the crash. Include the day, date, time and location of the crash, as well as details about the weather, what you saw and what you did.


10 Talk to a lawyer – Set up a free consult and get answers about your rights and options. An attorney can explain the law, tell you how much your claim is worth and inform you about the next steps to take in order to get on the path to financial recovery.


Another very important thing to do after a car accident is keeping records related to your crash and the losses it’s caused you. This recordkeeping can preserve the value of your claim because it can detail the extent of the financial impacts you have suffered due to the wreck.

Some of the specific issues or elements that should be included in your recordkeeping are the following:

  • Accident-scene photos and report(s) – These can include the pictures you took after the crash, as well as photos included with the police report and/or insurance claim. In terms of reports, keep your copy of the police report, as well as any investigation/claims reports (or correspondence) from insurance companies.


  • Lost wages – Document the earnings you have lost as a result of the crash by keeping pay stubs and bank statements. If the accident caused you to lose your job (because of missing too much time from work), be sure to also keep any correspondence, reports or memos that your employer sent you regarding your job loss.


  • Medical care and the related bills – This can include any medical reports, bills, treatment guidelines, and/or diagnostic test results you receive as you get your crash-related injuries treated. These documents can be supplemented by your own notes (like a journal in which you detail your physical and/or psychological limitations resulting from the crash).


  • Other bills – This can include anything from property damage/repair bills (for your vehicle, for instance) to bills for prescription medications, rental cars, etc. If you’re spending money to cover some loss that was caused by the accident, keep the receipt.


When it comes to recordkeeping in the aftermath of an auto accident, here are a few helpful tips to remember:

  • When in doubt, keep something – You can always throw stuff out later if it’s not needed (but tracking something down months or years after the fact can be much more difficult – and costly). So, just keep everything related to your crash (even if you don’t think it’s necessary or essential).


  • Keep all of the records in one, easily accessible place – Get a folder or binder where you can keep all of your accident-related bills, reports and other documents. This can help you avoid losing anything (while making it easier for you to quickly access any crash-related document in the future).


  • Create a backup file or version – If possible, try to make physical and/or electronic backups of each document (i.e., copy and/or scan each document). This can be invaluable if any document gets misplaced or damaged in the future.

How to Report a Car Accident in South Carolina

In South Carolina, there are generally two ways to report a car crash to authorities:

1. Call police immediately after the accident – Whether you call 911 or a nonemergency number, reporting the accident to law enforcement is generally the best move. This will result in immediate help at the scene, as well as an official police investigation of (and report for) the crash. These reports tend to include details like the following:
• The names of the parties involved in the crash
• Officers’ observation of the wreckage/scene
• Witness statements
• Officers’ findings regarding fault.

2. Report the accident to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) – If police were not called immediately after an auto crash (or if they were unable to respond to the scene), motorists can report car accidents in the hours or days after the crash to the SCDMV. To file these car accident reports, it will be necessary to complete Form-309 (Traffic Collision Report Form) and mail it to the SCDMV within 15 days of the crash. There is not currently an online reporting system for South Carolina auto accidents.2

Here, it is important to point out that South Carolina law requires that any auto accident that caused at least $1,000 in property damage or that resulted in injuries or death to be reported to authorities. Failures to report these accidents can result in a range of possible penalties, such as (but not limited to) license suspensions and criminal charges.

How to Read a South Carolina Accident Report

In the weeks after a car accident, the responding officer will write an accident report and submit it to the SCDMV. You can request a copy of the official police report for a car accident here.

Once you get this report, here are some of the most important things to check or verify:

On Page 1

  • Motorist information – Located at the top of the first page, this section will list the names, along with the contact information and vehicle information, for each involved driver. This section can also include details related to:
    o Whether a specific driver contributed to the accident
    o Whether a specific driver is suspected to have been impaired (drunk or drugged) at the time of the accident
    o Whether a driver was speeding
    o Any other driver-related factors that may have played a role in causing a crash.
  • Property damage estimates – Mid-way down the first page is a small section that will list the estimated property damage incurred for each vehicle involved in the accident.
  • Pictorial of the crash – Also mid-way down the first page (to the left of the property damage estimate section) will be a sketch of what is believed to have occurred when the accident happened. Check this part out carefully to make sure no details are wrong here.
  • Witness information – At the very bottom of the first page is where the witness(es)’ name(s) and contact information will be (if there were any witnesses to the wreck).

On Page 2

  • The impacts of the crash on each person – At the top of the second page of the police report will be a section with details regarding the injuries sustained by each involved driver (and passenger, pedestrian, etc.). Additional details, such as the following, can also be included here:
    o Whether a specific party was wearing a seatbelt
    o Whether airbags deployed
    o Whether anyone was thrown from a vehicle.
  • The specific events of the accident – Underneath the above section (around the middle of the second page) is where there will be details regarding how the accident occurred. This section can include information about what happened immediately before the crash, the type of crash (e.g., rear-end collision, left-hand turn crash, etc.), and the point(s) of impact associated with the wreck. This is also where chemical test results (to see if a driver was drunk or drugged) will be noted (if this testing was done).
  • More crash details – At the bottom of the second page is where details about the road and weather conditions will be. This is also where officers will note the contributing factors to the crash (based on the findings of their investigation).

If you would like professional help making sense of your car accident report – or if you have any questions about it, contact a lawyer a Chappell, Smith & Arden. We will review your report for free and give you clear answers about your rights and options. Our goals are to help you figure out your best plan of legal action and to protect your rights to recovery as you move forward.

Things You Should Do after the Accident

In the meantime, we’d like to share some auto accident statistics with you to highlight just how often car crashes happen and harm the public.

SC Car Accident Statistics

The following South Carolina auto accident statistics shed some light on just how often car wrecks occur in the state, as well as some of the their impacts:

• A traffic crash occurs on a South Carolina roadway every 4.5 minutes.
• Every 15.4 minutes, someone in South Carolina is hurt in a car accident.
• Every 11.6 hours, someone in South Carolina is killed in a deadly auto wreck.
• Since 2013, both injury- and fatality-related auto crashes in South Carolina have been on the rise. In fact, since 2013, injury crashes in the state have increased by more than 4 percent; over this same period of time, traffic fatalities in South Carolina have surged more than 7 percent.
• Annually, auto accidents in South Carolina end up costing at least $3 billion (when considering the costs of property damage, medical treatments and lost productivity). It should be noted here that these costs do not reflect the intangible, yet profound, costs related to the suffering that victims endure as result of serious car wrecks.

Common Car Accident Causes

Any number of factors – sometimes multiple factors at once – can cause car accidents. Some of the most common causes, however, include:

  • Driver mistakes or negligence, such as violating traffic laws, drunk driving, distracted driving, and overly aggressive driving
  • Other factors, like adverse weather (that reduces visibility or makes the roads icy) and objects in the road (like animals or debris)
  • Unsafe road conditions, like broken traffic lights, a lack of traffic signs, or a lack of lane/traffic dividers
  • Vehicle-related factors, which could include equipment failures and unsafe vehicle design

Common Types of Car Accidents

The above (and other) factors can cause a range of minor to serious car accidents, with some of the most common types of these auto wrecks including crashes like:

  • Distracted driving crashes
  • Drunk driving crashes
  • Fatal car accidents.
  • Head-on collisions
  • Hit-and-run accidents
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Rollovers

The Columbia personal injury lawyers at Chappell, Smith & Arden are experienced at representing the victims of these crashes – and any other type of wreck caused by negligence.

Common Car Accident Injuries

Auto accidents can cause a range of injuries, some of which are minor or fleeting and others that can be far more severe, painful and lasting. Some of the most common types of car accident injuries include:

  • Fatal injuries – All too often, auto wrecks have deadly outcomes. Head-on collisions, as well as rollovers, are among the deadliest types of car accidents.
  • Head and brain injuries – Car accidents are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), just behind falling accidents.
  • Neck injuries – Car accidents are the top cause of whiplash. Other neck injuries, however, like fractures and strains, can also be caused by auto crashes.
    Spine and back injuries – Painful and debilitating, these injuries can be irreversible and seriously impact victims’ quality of life.

Get Experienced Help Recovering from an Auto Crash: Contact a Columbia Car Accident Lawyer at Chappell, Smith & Arden

A Columbia car accident lawyer at Chappell, Smith & Arden is ready to help you start financially recovering from your crash. Just call (803) 929-3600 or contact us online to start getting helpful answers about your options – and to discover what you can do as you move forward to protect your rights and claim.

Since 1993, our lawyers have been committed to advocating accident victims’ rights and fighting to help them obtain the full amount of compensation they deserve. While no settlement can change the past, it can help you reclaim your life and move on to a brighter future.

From our six office locations throughout South Carolina, our attorneys are proud to provide the highest quality legal service and exceptional representation to injured people and families.


1: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
2: Additional information and guidance about filing auto accident reports with the SCDMV
3: South Carolina auto accident statistics compiled and reported by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. The statistics cited herein are for 2014, the most recent year for which complete and final data is available.