Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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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

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner LeAndra Lewis sought workers' compensation benefits for injuries she suffered following a shooting in a night club operated by L.B. Dynasty. In a previous opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Lewis was an employee of L.B. Dynasty, entitling her to workers' compensation benefits. The Court remanded the matter to the court of appeals to review the commission's order awarding benefits to Lewis. Ultimately, the court of appeals affirmed the commission's award of $75 per week. Lewis appealed, arguing the court of appeals erred in holding the commission's findings were supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court agreed, and remanded this case back to the commission for a de novo hearing to determine the amount of benefits to which Lewis is entitled. View "Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center in Columbia. Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost more than fifty percent of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him only permanent partial disability. The court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a claimant's ability to work could affect his entitlement to disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). The Court reversed and held evidence of a claimant's ability to hold gainful employment alone cannot preclude a determination of permanent disability under the scheduled-member statute. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nathalie Davaut appealed the denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits for injuries she sustained attempting to leave her workplace. To reach her car, which was in a university lot provided for faculty and student parking, Petitioner was required to cross Hubbard Drive (the Street), which bisected University of South Carolina Lancaster's (USCL) campus. While crossing the Street, Petitioner was struck by a vehicle and injured. It was undisputed that the Street and the crosswalks that spanned it are not owned or controlled by the University of South Carolina (USC); rather, they were maintained and controlled by the City of Lancaster. However, it was also undisputed that both the library (where Petitioner had been working) and the parking lot (where Petitioner was headed) belonged to USC. Petitioner sought workers' compensation benefits from her employer and its insurer, State Accident Fund (collectively, Respondents). Respondents, relying on the going and coming rule, denied Petitioner's injuries were compensable, on the basis Petitioner was injured away from USC's property. Petitioner claimed that because she was injured while traveling from one portion of USC's property to another, the Panel erred in denying her relief. The court of appeals disagreed and upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of coverage. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and held that when an employee crosses from one portion of her employer's property to another over a reasonably necessary and direct route, the employee remains in the course of her employment for purposes of workers' compensation. View "Davaut v. Univ. of So. Carolina" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Linda Johnson enrolled her mother, Inez Roberts (Mrs. Roberts), in Heritage Healthcare of Estill (HHE) to receive nursing home care. Johnson held a general power of attorney for Mrs. Roberts, and as such, signed an arbitration agreement with HHE on her mother's behalf upon Mrs. Roberts's admission to HHE. Within six months of entering HHE, she developed severe pressure ulcers, resulting in the amputation of her leg and ultimately, her death in 2009. Prior to Mrs. Roberts's death, in August 2008, Johnson requested HHE allow her access to Mrs. Roberts's medical records, but HHE refused, citing privacy provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Johnson then filed an ex parte motion seeking to obtain a copy of Mrs. Roberts's medical records from HHE and to restrain HHE from changing, altering, or destroying the records. The circuit court granted a restraining order, and HHE filed a motion to dissolve the order, again citing HIPAA's privacy provisions. Subsequently, at Johnson's request, the circuit court appointed her Mrs. Roberts's guardian ad litem (GAL) in order to pacify HHE's HIPAA concerns. However, HHE still refused to produce the records. The court again ordered HHE to produce the records, and HHE appealed. During the pendency of the appeal, Mrs. Roberts died, and Johnson became her personal representative. HHE then produced the records, and the parties dismissed the appeal by consent. Several months after obtaining the records, in August 2010, Johnson filed a notice of intent (NOI) for a wrongful death and survival action against HHE. In October 2010, following an impasse at pre-suit mediation, Johnson filed her complaint. In November 2010, HHE filed its answer and asserted arbitration as one of several defenses, but did not move to compel arbitration at that time. Instead, HHE filed arbitration-related discovery requests on Johnson. Johnson asks this Court to review the court of appeals' decision to reverse the circuit court's finding that Heritage Healthcare of Estill (HHE) waived its right to arbitrate the claims between it and Johnson. Finding that HHE indeed waived its right to arbitrate the claims, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals. View "Johnson v. Heritage Healthcare" on Justia Law

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In April 2007, Loretta Traynum purchased an automobile insurance policy from Progressive Direct Insurance Co. through Progressive's website. Instead of selecting one of the preset packages Progressive offered, all of which contained UIM coverage by default, Traynum created a custom package which did not include UIM coverage. Traynum also increased the preset deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverages. The result of these changes was a lower monthly premium. Traynum then electronically signed a form acknowledging Progressive offered her optional UIM coverage and that she rejected that coverage. Thereafter, in November 2007, Traynum and Cynthia Scavens were involved in an automobile accident, from which Appellants Traynum and and her husband Leonard claimed more than $175,000 in damages. Appellants brought claims against Scavens for negligence and loss of consortium, which were settled for $100,000, the limits of Scavens's liability coverage. As the settlement did not fully satisfy Appellants' damages, Appellants also brought a declaratory judgment action against Progressive claiming Progressive did not make a meaningful offer of UIM coverage to Traynum, as required by law, and asking the court to reform Traynum's policy to include UIM coverage in the amount of the policy's liability limits. Appellants appealed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Progressive, arguing the trial court incorrectly held that Progressive made a meaningful offer of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage via its website. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Traynum v. Scavens" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Richard Hartzell appealed the court of appeals' decision to reverse the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's determination that he was entitled to medical benefits for a work-related back injury. Petitioner argued the record contained substantial evidence to support the Commission's finding that he reported his work-related injury to Employer within the requisite time, and therefore, the court of appeals erred in reversing the Commission's order based on this issue. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Alice Hancock waited in her vehicle in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart while her sister, Donna Beckham, attempted to shoplift several articles of clothing. Hope Rollings, a Wal-Mart customer service manager, noticed Beckham attempting to shoplift and alerted several other employees, including fellow manager Shawn Cox and the on-duty security guard Derrick Jones of U.S. Security Associates, Inc. (USSA), which provided security in the Wal-Mart parking lot pursuant to a contract with Wal-Mart. Ultimately, Beckham exited Wal-Mart without the clothing. However, Jones approached her in the parking lot. Beckham ran towards Hancock's vehicle, and Jones followed her in his truck and blocked Hancock's vehicle with his truck. After Beckham entered Hancock's vehicle, Hancock turned the vehicle around and drove towards the parking lot's exit, with Jones following. Hancock exited the parking lot onto a highway, and Jones followed. Approximately two miles from Wal-Mart, Hancock's vehicle left the highway and crashed. Hancock died at the scene of the accident. Petitioner Travis Roddey, the personal representative of Hancock's estate, brought an action alleging negligence on the part of Wal-Mart, USSA, and Jones. Petitioner appealed the court of appeals' decision to affirm the trial court's grant of Wal-Mart's motion for a directed verdict on Petitioner's negligence claim. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Supreme Court found that there was evidence from which a jury could determine that Wal-Mart was negligent, and that its negligence proximately caused the injuries in this case. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court should have submitted to the jury the issues of Wal-Mart's negligence and proximate cause, and remanded for a new trial as to all of the defendants. View "Roddey v. Wal-Mart Stores" on Justia Law