Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Jack Poole and his wife, Jennifer, were riding in a vehicle owned by Doris Knight, Jennifer's mother, when a drunk driver crossed the center line and struck them. The Pooles were both seriously injured in the collision; although Jack survived, Jennifer's catastrophic injuries resulted in her death several days later. In contrast with the substantial bodily injuries, the Pooles sustained minimal property damage because they did not own the vehicle. The at-fault driver's liability carrier tendered its policy limits. Farm Bureau, the insurer on Knight's vehicle, then tendered its underinsured motorist (UIM) policy limits for bodily injury to Jack individually and to Jack as the representative of Jennifer's estate. The Pooles then sought recovery from their own insurer, Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), which provided them a split limits UIM policy with bodily injury coverage of up to $100,000 per person and $50,000 for property damage. GEICO tendered the UIM bodily injury limits of $100,000 each for Jack and Jennifer's estate. The Pooles requested another $50,000 from the UIM policy's property damage coverage in anticipation of a large punitive damages award, but GEICO refused. GEICO then initiated a declaratory judgment action with the federal district court to establish that it was not liable to pay any amounts for punitive damages under the property damage provision of the UIM policy because the source of the Pooles' UIM damages was traceable only to bodily injury. The federal court asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether, under South Carolina law, when an insured seeks coverage under an automobile insurance policy, must punitive damages be apportioned pro rata between those sustained for bodily injury and those sustained for property damage where the insurance policy is a split limits policy? The Supreme Court answered the question, "No." View "Government Employees Insurance Company v. Poole" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of state law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. This wrongful death action arose from the death of a minor. The deceased was a young child experiencing seizures; the treating physician sent the child's DNA to Defendants' genetic testing laboratory for the purpose of diagnosing the child's disease or disorder. The allegation against the genetic testing laboratory was that it failed to properly determine the child's condition, leading to the child's death. Defendants argued the genetic testing laboratory was a "licensed health care provider" pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 38-79-410 (2015). Defendants further contended Plaintiffs' claims concerned medical malpractice, thereby rendering the medical malpractice statute of repose applicable. The district court asked whether the federally licensed genetic testing laboratory acted as a "licensed health care provider" as defined by S.C. Code Ann.38-79-410 when, at the request of a patient's treating physician, the laboratory performed genetic testing to detect an existing disease or disorder. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative. View "Williams v. Quest" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of South Carolina law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Sarah Hartsock was killed in an automobile crash on Interstate 26 in Calhoun County, South Carolina. Her personal representative, Theodore Hartsock, Jr., brought a survival and wrongful death action asserting claims under South Carolina law for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Hartsock alleged that the vehicle in which Mrs. Hartsock was riding was struck head-on by another vehicle. That vehicle had crossed the median after suffering a blowout of an allegedly defective tire that Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company [collectively "Goodyear"] designed, manufactured, and marketed. The federal court had subject-matter jurisdiction based upon complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and damages alleged to be greater than $75,000. During pretrial discovery a dispute arose between the parties over certain Goodyear material relating to the design and chemical composition of the allegedly defective tire. Goodyear objected to producing this material, asserting that it constituted trade secrets. The district court eventually found, and Hartsock did not dispute, that the material did, in fact, constitute trade secrets. However, the court ordered Goodyear to produce the material subject to a confidentiality order. In doing so, the court applied federal discovery standards, rejecting Goodyear's contention that South Carolina trade secret law applied. The federal appellate court asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether South Carolina recognized an evidentiary privilege for trade secrets. The South Carolina Court responded yes, but that it was a qualified privilege. View "Hartsock v. Goodyear" on Justia Law

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Respondent Otis Nero filed a workers' compensation claim alleging he sustained injuries to his back and shoulder while on the job. The single commissioner found respondent suffered an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of respondent's employment, and awarded benefits. The appellate panel reversed the decision of the single commissioner, finding respondent failed to provide timely notice of the injury. On appeal from the commission's decision, the court of appeals employed the de novo standard of review applicable to jurisdictional questions, and reversed the commission. In finding the question of timely notice was a jurisdictional question subject to de novo review, the court of appeals relied on Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, 753 S.E.2d 416 (2013) and Mintz v. Fiske-Carter Construction Co., 63 S.E.2d 50 (1951). The South Carolina Supreme Court found neither Shatto nor Mintz supported the court of appeals' use of the de novo standard. Until this case, the court of appeals consistently applied the substantial evidence standard when reviewing decisions of the commission on the question of timely notice. The Supreme Court found that under well-settled law, the commission's determination of whether a claimant gave timely notice under section 42-15-20 was not a jurisdictional determination, and had to be reviewed on appeal under the substantial evidence standard. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a decision under the proper standard of review. View "Nero v. SCDOT" on Justia Law

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This appeal presents the South Carolina Supreme Court with the opportunity to revisit Roddey v. Wal-Mart Stores E., LP, 784 S.E.2d 670 (2016), wherein the Court reversed and remanded for a new trial after determining the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the circuit court's decision granting Wal-Mart's motion for a directed verdict on the appellant's negligence action. On remand, the circuit court, believing the new trial to be limited to the negligence action, issued an order striking the negligent hiring, training, supervision, and entrustment action and barring any evidence in support of the action on the basis of res judicata. Travis Roddey, individually and as the personal representative of Alice Hancock's estate, ("Appellant") appealed the order and the Supreme Court certified the appeal pursuant to Rule 204(b), SCACR. Wal-Mart suspected Alice Hancock's sister, Donna Beckham, of shoplifting. As Beckham was exiting the store and heading for Hancock's car, Wal-Mart's employees told Derrick Jones, an on-duty Wal-Mart security guard employed with U.S. Security Associates, Inc. ("USSA"), to delay Beckham from leaving its premises. Beckham, however, got into Hancock's car and Hancock exited the parking lot and entered the highway. Jones pursued Hancock onto the highway in contravention of Wal-Mart's policies after Wal-Mart's employees repeatedly asked him to obtain Hancock's license tag. Hancock died in a single-car accident shortly thereafter. Appellant filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, USSA, and Jones (collectively "Respondents"), alleging negligence and negligent hiring, training, supervision, and entrustment. At the conclusion of Appellant's case, Wal-Mart moved for a directed verdict on both causes of action. The circuit court granted Wal-Mart's motion and dismissed it from the case, concluding "there is insufficient evidence that Wal-Mart was negligent, or even if they were there is [a] lack of proximate cause that the events were not foreseeable." USSA subsequently moved for a directed verdict on the negligent hiring cause of action, arguing Jones had a suspended driver's license and a criminal record did not make it foreseeable that "Jones would engage in a high speed pursuit down the highway off [Wal-Mart's] premises." The court denied the motion and both the negligence action and the negligent hiring action were sent to the jury. The Supreme Court found no reversible error in the circuit court’s judgment, and affirmed it. View "Roddey v. Wal-Mart" on Justia Law

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Johnny Eades sought treatment from numerous healthcare providers, including Petitioners Palmetto Primary Care Physicians, LLC and Trident Emergency Physicians, LLC, for a blockage and aneurysm of the left iliac artery in July and August of 2009. Three years later, Mr. Eades and his wife filed a Notice of Intent to File Suit (NOI) to bring a medical malpractice action in Charleston County, South Carolina. Two days after filing the NOI, the Eades filed answers to interrogatories listing Dr. Paul Skudder as an expert witness, along with an affidavit from Skudder pursuant to section 15-79-125 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2016). This case required the South Carolina Supreme Court to decide whether an expert witness affidavit submitted prior to the commencement of a medical malpractice action complied with section 15-36-100(A) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2016). The trial court found the affidavit insufficient based on the expert's practice area and dismissed the NOI. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the statute permitted the production of an affidavit from an expert who did not practice in the same area of medicine as the allegedly negligent doctor. View "Eades v. Palmetto Cardiovascular" on Justia Law

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A minor may bring an action for her own medical expenses if she the "real party in interest.” Alexia L. was born on April 5, 2007, delivered by obstetrician Gregory Miller, M.D. Alexia's mother, Angela Patton, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in November 2009 against Dr. Miller and the professional association where he practiced, Rock Hill Gynecological & Obstetrical Associates, P.A. Patton's theory of liability was that the defendant improperly managed the resolution of shoulder dystocia, and that such mismanagement caused permanent injury to Alexia's left-sided brachial plexus nerves. Patton sought damages for Alexia's pain and suffering, disability, loss of earning capacity, and other harm she contends resulted from this injury. Patton also sought damages for Alexia's medical expenses. Patton filed the lawsuit only in her capacity as Alexia's "next friend." In March 2012, Patton filed a separate medical malpractice lawsuit against Amisub of South Carolina, which owned and did business as Piedmont Medical Center. Patton did not make any claim in her individual capacity; the only claims she made were Alexia's claims, which she made in her representative capacity as Alexia's next friend. Defendants moved to dismiss based on Patton’s status as “next friend” to Alexia. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding Patton could recover for Alexia's medical expenses if she sued in her own capacity, but not as Alexia's representative. The court found "the minor plaintiff may not maintain a cause of action for [her medical] expenses in her own right." The South Carolina Supreme Court did “nothing more” than apply the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to Rule 17(c), "Whenever a minor . . . has a representative, . . . the representative may sue . . . on behalf of the minor . . . ." If a dispute arises as to whether that representative is "the real party in interest," Rule 17(a) governs the dispute. If the representative seeks to amend the complaint, Rules 15(a), 15(c), and 17(a) provide there should be no unnecessary dismissal, but rather the parties and the trial court should work to reach the merits. In this case, the circuit court failed to apply these Rules, and unnecessarily dismissed a claim it should have tried on the merits. View "Patton v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center and brought a claim for disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost fifty percent or more of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him permanent partial disability based upon a forty-eight percent impairment to his back. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding the Commission's finding of only forty-eight percent loss of use was not supported by substantial evidence. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" on Justia Law

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Comparative negligence does not apply in crashworthiness cases, and that South Carolina's public policy does not bar a plaintiff, allegedly intoxicated at the time of the accident, from bringing a crashworthiness claim against the vehicle manufacturer. This case concerned the applicability of comparative negligence to strict liability and breach of warranty claims in a crashworthiness case brought by Plaintiff Reid Donze against Defendant General Motors ("GM"). The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified two questions to the South Carolina Supreme Court Court addressing the defenses available to a manufacturer in crashworthiness cases brought under strict liability and breach of warranty theories. View "Donze v. General Motors" on Justia Law

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Respondent Walter Smith was injured in December 2012 following a motor vehicle accident. Smith settled with respondent Corbett Mizzell for the policy limits of Mizzell's liability coverage in exchange for a covenant not to execute. Smith then sued Appellants Norman Tiffany, Individually, Brown Trucking Company and Brown Integrated Logistics, claiming Appellants' negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. The issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court stemmed from Appellants' efforts to have Mizzell added as a defendant. In the South Carolina Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act (Act), the legislature abrogated pure joint and several liability for tortfeasors who were less than fifty percent at fault. The Act directed the fact-finder to apportion one-hundred percent of the fault between the plaintiff and "each defendant whose actions were the proximate cause of the indivisible injury." The trial court rejected Appellants' various arguments and, in granting Mizzell summary judgment, applied the Act as written. In affirming the trial court, the Supreme Court was “likewise constrained by the plain meaning of the unambiguous language in the Act. While we appreciate the equity-driven argument of Appellants, we must honor legislative intent as clearly expressed in the Act, lest we run afoul of separation of powers.” View "Smith v. Tiffany" on Justia Law