Jury Verdict in Favor of Man Who Tripped in Parking Lot Set Aside by South Carolina Court of Appeals, Case Remanded for New Trial

Trying a lawsuit, such as a South Carolina premises liability case, in front of a jury requires close attention to not only the state’s rules of civil procedure but also a particular judge’s local rules and even the scheduling orders in a particular case. A mistake or failure to take certain action in a timely fashion can be costly.

Of course, a trial court judge’s ruling on such matters is subject to review by the court of appeals in most instances. The appropriateness of a judge’s decision to exclude certain evidence based on a procedural failing is something that must be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case decided by the State of South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was a man who was allegedly injured after he tripped and fell on a “raised curb” at a Charleston parking lot owned by the defendant. The accident occurred at around 7 pm on a January evening in 2013. According to the plaintiff, the curb was “virtually hidden” because of poor lighting conditions in the parking lot. The case was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and it appealed.

Holding of the Court

Phrasing the issue as whether the lower tribunal abused its discretion in excluding certain testimony based on the defendant’s failure to timely identify the witness as an expert witness, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for a new trial. The court found that the error was prejudicial because the witness’ testimony was vital to the defendant’s arguments regarding causation and damages.

The trial court judge had based his ruling on a finding that the defendant did not file a supplemental interrogatory identifying an expert who would testify at trial. Since “all [you] had to do was send them a letter,” the judge punished the defendant by excluding the witness’ testimony at trial. The appellate court held that this was wrong, noting that the defendant had identified the witness in its pre-trial brief as a potential witness (though perhaps a fact witness rather than an expert). According to the appellate court, in deciding whether to exclude an expert witness as a sanction for late disclosure, there are several factors that should be considered (including prejudice to the opposing party). By making the decision based on the single consideration of whether the defendant “sent the letter,” the trial court judge made a reversible error.

Seek Legal Counsel Concerning a Personal Injury Case

When someone is injured because of another party’s negligence, the injured individual may have a legal claim against the negligent person, business, or governmental entity. At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville, we handle many different types of personal injury and wrongful death cases. We offer a free consultation and handle most cases on a contingency fee contract because we understand that injured people often lack the funds to pay attorney fees upfront. If you have been hurt and need to talk to a lawyer about your case, call us today at 864-582-5118.

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