Harrell

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) - The South Carolina House of Delegates overwhelmingly voted to place a limit on punitive damages awards and cap the amount private attorneys can make while representing the state Wednesday.

The bill, which would cap punitive damages at $350,000 or three times the compensatory damages award, passed with a vote of 104-9. It would create a tier system for attorneys fees and create other changes in the outside counsel relationship.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Republican, is the chief sponsor of the bill.

"Today, by passing our comprehensive Business Tort Reform Bill, the House took another major leap forward in making South Carolina a great place to do business," Harrell said.

"Maintaining our low-tax and pro-business climate is key to our state's economic recovery."

Florida already has similar caps, and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is hoping legislation that creates a tier system for attorneys fees can make its way through the Legislature.

The South Carolina bill would not allow private attorneys representing the state to make more than:

-Twenty-three percent of the judgment or settlement up to and including the first $5 million;

-Nineteen percent of that portion of the judgment or settlement in excess of $5million up to $10 million;

-Fifteen percent of that portion of the judgment or settlement in excess of $10 million up to $25 million;

-Eleven percent of that portion of the judgment or settlement in excess of $25 million up to $50 million;

-Seven percent of that portion of the judgment or settlement in excess of $50 million but less than $100 million; and

-Four percent of that portion of the judgment or settlement in excess of $100 million.

The bill also states that the attorney general shall retain 10 percent of the fees awarded to the outside counsel.

In settlements or awards that include nonmonetary relief, the attorney general will determine its monetary value.

The House must vote on the bill again before it moves to the Senate.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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