Car accidents can happen in an instant. Drivers may encounter negligent roadwork, a faulty stoplight, or any number of dangerous circumstances with little or no warning. When the party at fault in an accident is another driver, the resulting legal proceedings to recover money damages are relatively straightforward: an action is filed against the other driver (or, in many cases, against his or her insurance company), a judge or jury looks at the facts, and the case is decided. However, when responsibility for an incident falls at the feet of a government agency, many victims are unsure even where to start.
Basics of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act
To the average person seeking to file a claim against a government agency like the South Carolina Department of Transportation ("SCDOT"), it may be unclear why these actions must be filed under a special statute instead of the traditional tort scheme. The reason the South Carolina Tort Claims Act and laws like it are required for this type of action is a doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity traces its origins from early English law, and it means that generally a state, as a creator of laws, cannot commit a legal wrong and is thus immune from civil or criminal liability. In modern times, many states have waived this immunity to allow for lawsuits. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act constitutes such a waiver, and makes it possible for individuals to file claims against state agencies.
The Mechanics of Filing a Claim Against SCDOT
At the basest level, an individual may file a claim against the Department of Transportation by filling out a Damage Claim Form (Form 2062), and submitting it along with two repair estimates or a paid invoice to the Department of Transportation Maintenance Office in the county where the incident occurred. This form must be filed within one year from the date of the incident. If the claim is for damage to a registered vehicle, the registered owner must be the one making the claim and a copy of the vehicle registration must also be included. Then, the agency or its insurer has 180 days to decide whether to pay or deny the claim.