As we do each year, South Carolina Lawyers Weekly is delighted to present the top verdicts and settlements that were reported to us for 2018.
Over the years, Lawyers Weekly has handled the top verdicts and settlements list in different ways. Some years we’ve done two separate lists, one for verdicts and one for settlements.
As the new editor-in-chief, it was important to me that we present the top verdicts and settlements as one compilation. A lawyer’s duty is to ensure that the client is fairly compensated for the harms they’ve suffered, regardless of whether that compensation comes in the form of a verdict or a settlement. So a lawyer’s skill in negotiating effective settlements on behalf of their clients is no more or less important than the skills needed to procure a favorable jury verdict.
And indeed, our list leader this year is a settlement: The owner of a South Carolina steel mill agreed to pay a $22.5 million settlement to workers who said they were discriminated against because of their race, finally bringing closure to a lawsuit that was filed in 2003 and dealt with allegations of a racially hostile work environment that stretch all the way back to 1999.
Armand Derfner of Derfner & Altman in Charleston served as the plaintiffs’ co-counsel in that case. Derfner said that a settlement provides clients with some certainty that has to be measured against the possible outcome at trial and the likelihood of success. Clients often intrinsically value the peace of mind that comes with that certainty, and may have other considerations that matter to them in addition to monetary recovery.
“One of the places where lawyers sometimes go wrong is with taking too much of a role in making that decision. I like it when the client makes the decision whether they want to settle not, because then my only responsibility is to do the best job I can for them,” Derfner said.
“Oftentimes clients, when they start out, they say ‘I want my day in court, I want to be heard,’ and oftentimes that is important, but just as often after a while, they want to be done with it, and that may carry more weight with the client than having his day in court.”
As always, our list comes with a few caveats. Multistate class action lawsuits that happened to be sited in South Carolina, for instance, were not eligible for inclusion on our list.
Most importantly, though, these are simply the top verdicts and settlements that were reported to us in time for this compilation. We make every effort to thoroughly report on every substantial jury verdict awarded in the state, but each year there are undoubtedly many settlements that would have qualified for the list but are never reported to us due to confidentiality agreements or other reasons.
Obviously, confidentiality agreements are a fact of life, but this is also the moment where I respectfully ask a favor of South Carolina attorneys: If you’ve achieved a verdict or settlement on behalf of your clients, to the extent that you’re able, please let us here at Lawyers Weekly know about it. (We do routinely publish confidential settlements.) This information helps attorneys properly value their clients’ cases. Our hope is that these verdict and settlement reports, including the ones that didn’t crack this year’s list, help you better serve your clients.