Allen Charge to Jury in South Carolina Motorcycle/Heavy Equipment Accident Was Not Coercive – Johnson v. Sam English Grading, Inc.

In a perfect world, the evidence in a lawsuit would be so obviously convincing in favor of one party or the other that a jury would be able to reach a quick and unanimous verdict. In the real world, however, a case in which the evidence is so clearly in one party’s favor usually gets settled out of court.

As for the rest, the question sometimes arises as to what a judge should do after the jury has said they are deadlocked. In the landmark case of Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492 (1896), the nation’s highest court approved, at least for the federal courts, a jury instruction advising jurors to listen to one another with a disposition towards being convinced of each other’s arguments.

Recently, the South Carolina Court of Appeals was called upon to consider whether an Allen charge was acceptable in a particular South Carolina state court case.

The Facts of the Case

In the case of Johnson v. Sam English Grading, Inc., the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a woman who died in a motorcycle accident. At the time of the accident, the decedent was riding as a passenger on the motorcycle. She was killed when the driver laid down the motorcycle in an alleged attempt to avoid a collision with a large piece of equipment owned by the defendant company.

The personal representative filed suit in the Circuit Court of Aiken County, asserting a claim of negligence against the defendant company for its alleged failure to warn the motoring public, via a sign or other device, of the danger that the company created during the process of collecting debris for Owens Corning and placing it in a nearby landfill.

The case was tried to a jury, which found that the defendant company was 65% at fault in the accident and the motorcycle driver was 35% at fault. The trial court denied the defendant company’s post-trial motions, and it appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the trial court correctly admitted into evidence a private contract between the defendant company and Owens Corning, the trial court did not err in allowing multiple witnesses to testify about previous incidents at the same intersection, the issue of whether the defendant company was not entitled to a directed verdict or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict had been abandoned on appeal, and the version of an Allen charge given by the trial court was not inappropriately coercive.

In determining whether the Allen charge was coercive, the court considered, among other things, the length of deliberations both before and after the charge and whether the judge threatened the jury that they would have to remain in the room for a certain time even if they disagreed. The court found that, when read together, the trial court’s instructions to the jury were not coercive. The court noted that the defendant took issue with the general concept of an Allen charge and that not all states allow such an instruction. However, the court found that South Carolina does allow an Allen charge, and the trial court’s version of the charge herein was not erroneous.

Help with Your South Carolina Injury Case

If you have been hurt or lost a loved one due to the negligence of an individual or business, you probably have a lot of questions about your legal rights. The law office of Patrick E. Knie is here to help as you attempt to get your life back in order following an accident by bringing a personal injury claim. Call us at 864-582-5118 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your Spartanburg, Greenville, or other South Carolina accident case.

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