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Guest column: South Carolina’s liability laws urgently need reform

“When I opened my business many years ago, I had no idea that the biggest threat to my business was the threat of litigation…”

from BROWN BETHUNE

South Carolina is a great state to live and work in, which is why I chose to operate my business here. However, lately, South Carolina has become inhospitable to small businesses and it's time for change before business owners like me reach their breaking point.

In this legislative period Senate Bill 533 was introduced and would have done much to address the injustices that currently exist for business owners in our state. The bill would have ensured that property owners like me are not held financially liable for criminal acts committed by individuals on my property. This is because current South Carolina law allows the bar association to rig the system at my expense, with the threat of costly litigation that could shut down my business operations. Worse still, those who committed the crime often pay significantly less in damages than the business owner who did not commit the crime.

Isn't it backward that companies can be financially penalized simply for the fact that they operate in the state?

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Unfortunately, some members of the South Carolina General Assembly have killed this bill, leaving small business owners at a loss but holding out hope that our state's legislators will prioritize this much-needed reform next session.

When I opened my business many years ago, I had no idea that the biggest threat to my business was the threat of litigation, but unfortunately, it is. For those of us who own and operate businesses in South Carolina, it is no secret that our civil justice system is broken and enriches the powerful trial lawyers while burdening our businesses and profits with costly litigation and a tort tax. Legal abuse is a growing problem that our legislators must address immediately to keep our state competitive and allow our businesses to thrive.

Because the legislative session adjourned in May, no legislative reforms will be passed this session, so we must look to the next session and urge our lawmakers to prioritize civil rights reform—and listen to the voices of the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy.

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RELATED| ANOTHER SMALL COMPANY TAKES ACTION

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And it's not just businesses. All South Carolinians feel the economic burden of legal abuse and out-of-control litigation costs. According to a recent study, legal abuse costs the average South Carolina household 3,181 USD every year. It is clear that individuals, families, businesses, communities and local economies suffer from abuses of the legal system while trial lawyers who profit from our state's litigiousness continue to be enriched.

While I am not a politician or a lawyer, I know that our state's priorities are not aligned when they prioritize the possibility of frivolous litigation over the economic well-being of our citizens and the businesses that do business here.

For South Carolina to remain competitive and attract business – and keep businesses like mine open – we must pass civil justice reforms that address these systemic problems that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Our state's politicians have an opportunity to correct these injustices and bring justice back to our state's civil justice system – and joint and several liability reform is just the beginning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Brown Bethune is a commercial real estate broker in Horry County and currently serves as the Real Estate Commissioner for South Carolina's 7th Congressional District. He has served on the Board of Directors of Helping Hands, the Membership Committee of Partners Economic Development, and the fundraising committees of the Boys Scouts, United Way, March of Dimes, and Make-A-Wish Foundation. He and his wife, Brenda, have three children and two grandchildren.

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