South Carolina Court of Appeals Allows Hospital to Claim Charitable Status in Premises Liability Lawsuit

Under South Carolina law, a property owner can be held legally liable for injuries suffered by visitors and others who are legally on the owner’s premises, if the injured person can prove that the property owner was negligent. Of course, the property owner will likely attempt to avoid liability in a South Carolina injury accident if at all possible.

Evidence can be subject to spoliation in any lawsuit, but this is especially so in premises liability cases. This can make proving liability more difficult later on. (If you find yourself injured after a slip and fall in at a business, even a quick cellphone picture of the scene taken by you or a friend may prove useful later on.)

If you have been hurt on another’s property, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible regarding your potential claim. Gathering evidence sooner, rather than later, can make recovery of fair compensation much more likely.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent premises liability case was a doctor who was allegedly injured while working at the defendant medical center in 2011. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, he slipped and fell in liquid on the defendant’s floor while walking through the hospital, and, as a result, sustained injuries that left him with pain so severe that he was unable to continue his medical practice. The defendant’s answer asserted that it was an eleemosynary organization, such that it was entitled to the protections of the South Carolina Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.

The plaintiff’s case was tried before a jury in the Circuit Court of Sumter County and initially resulted in $2,500,000 verdict in the plaintiff’s favor. However, after a hearing regarding the defendant’s tax status and the applicability of the Act, the verdict was reduced to $300,000 pursuant to the liability cap contained in the Act.

Decision on Appeal

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court had committed reversible error in permitting the defendant to amend its answer to assert a new affirmative defense, in allowing the defendant to reopen its case and offer new evidence in support of its charitable affirmative defense, and in concluding that the defendant was qualified to receive the protections of the Act.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals sided with the defendant, thereby affirming the trial court’s judgment awarding the plaintiff $300,000 in damages. According to the court of appeals, the lower tribunal did not err in allowing the defendant to amend its answer because there was no prejudice to the plaintiff in so doing. In the court’s view, the plaintiff knew the defendant was a charitable entity and should have known that the statutory cap would apply. The plaintiff was likewise not prejudiced by the trial court’s post-trial hearing on the defendant’s qualification for the charitable immunity cap, nor was there any error in the court’s actual decision that the defendant qualified for the cap under the statute.

Contact a South Carolina Premises Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to money damages in compensation for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages. The Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville handles a wide variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases. For a free case evaluation regarding your potential claim, call us at 864-582-5118 to schedule an appointment.

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