The South Carolina Court of Appeals issued a recent decision holding that
settlement of a civil claim isn’t necessarily enough to protect
against a criminal court ordering restitution. This article discusses
the case of
State of South Carolina vs. Jason Morgan, which was decided on July 20, 2016.
On August 21, 2010, a South Carolina driver caused a serious collision
in Pickens County. As a result he was charged with Felony DUI with Great
Bodily Injury and a claim was submitted to his insurance company. The
great bodily injuries were severe, with the victim suffering a broken
arm, broken hip, and broken ribs.
Felony DUI with Great Bodily Injury is a felony and carries a possible sentence of up to ten years in prison.
In addition there are penalties assessed against the defendant’s
driver’s license. This charge was subsequently resolved in criminal
court through a plea bargain to a lesser charge of Assault and Battery 2nd Degree. This is a misdemeanor that carries up to three years. The sentence
was a suspended sentence to probation.
After the plea the court held a separate hearing where at the court ordered
$238,660.10 in restitution. The defendant objected, arguing that his insurance
company’s prior payment of $25,000 (full policy limits) and the
accompanying release signed by the victim prevented further collection efforts.
As a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that a release
entered into between the parties’ only (not signed by the State)
does not bar a criminal court from ordering restitution. The Court of
Appeals also held that criminal restitution could also be pursued because
the release was a covenant not to execute, which is typically used when
settling with the liability carrier before pursuing underinsured coverage.
So what does this mean for you if you are facing a DUI charge? If your
case is one in which there was an automobile accident involving personal
injuries you are no longer guaranteed to be fully shielded by your insurance
company. Here is our recommendation:
If you were involved in a serious accident with significant medical bills
you may want to consult with your own attorney regarding the form of release
that the lawyer hired by the insurance company proposes to you to settle
Make sure that you have enough insurance. It is too late to buy enough
after an accident, so you have to be proactive. You should have enough
liability insurance to pay the expenses if you cause an accident that
results in someone being hospitalized or permanently injured. You should
also have enough underinsured and uninured coverage to pay your expenses
in the event that you are seriously injured by another driver with low
policy limits. Keep in mind that minimum limits in South Carolina are
only $25,000, and hospital bills can easily exceed that amount leaving
you nothing for pain and suffering, lost wages, and compensation for permanent
If you were charged with any type of DUI case involving serious injuries
you should keep these things in mind. While the attorneys at the Law Office
of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, were not involved with the case discussed
in this article, they are familiar with its holding and are prepared to
offer guidance to our clients on how they should proceed. Please
contact us if you would like to schedule a consultation regarding your case.