South Carolina’s House of Representatives has passed a tort reform bill (H. 3375) intended to protect businesses from purported unfair lawsuit abuse. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston), the bill would cap punitive damages at $350,000, or three times the amount of actual damages awarded, whichever is greater.

The cap, however, would not apply to cases in which the defendant (i) “pursued an intentional course of conduct that the defendant knew would cause injury or damage,” (ii) “pleads guilty to or is convicted of a felony arising out of the same act or conduct complained of by the plaintiff,” or (iii) “acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, other than lawfully prescribed drugs.” The bill also caps, on a sliding scale, the fees that private lawyers can receive if they are hired by the state’s attorney general or prosecutors.

“Businesses in South Carolina—especially small businesses—are too often one frivolous lawsuit away from being put out of business,” Harrell said. “Our goal with this tort reform bill is to bring fair balance to our system, lower the cost of doing business and make our state more competitive while still protecting our citizens from wrongdoing.”

Noting that South Carolina’s House passed a tort reform bill last year, “but the legislative session ended before it became law,” Harrell said that the House has acted quickly this year “on this key economic issue to give this measure plenty of time to become law this session.” A state Senate subcommittee is reportedly considering a similar bill. See Representative Bobby Harrell Press Release, Product Liability Law 360, February 9, 2011.