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Insurance Settlement No Longer Protection Against Restitution

Insurance Settlement No Longer Protection Against Restitution

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 your claim.

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 impairment.

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.


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