South Carolina Supreme Court Revisits Wrongful Death Lawsuit Arising from Security Officer’s Pursuit of Shoplifting Suspect

Proving a case of negligence in a South Carolina car accident case is a four-step process. In order for the defendant to be held liable, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff was harmed, and that there was a link of proximate causation between the breach of duty and the injuries.

If any of the elements is missing, the plaintiff cannot recover money damages against the defendant. Sometimes, disputes arise regarding the admissibility of evidence that the plaintiff proposes to submit on one or more of these issues. When this happens, it is up to the trial court to determine the admissibility of the evidence. If the opposing party so desires, he or she has the option of appealing the trial court’s ruling.

Facts of the Case

In a case that had been remanded for a new trial after having previously made its way all the way up to the South Carolina Supreme Court on appeal, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a woman who was killed in a one-vehicle accident that occurred when her sister, who had been suspected of shoplifting, got into her vehicle, and the two left the store with a security guard in pursuit of them. The plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, including a retail store, a security officer, and the company for which the officer worked, alleging that their negligence and negligent hiring caused the death of the plaintiff’s relative.

On remand from the prior appeal, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion to exclude the plaintiff’s negligent hiring action from retrial. The circuit court granted the motion, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed.

Holding of the Court

The supreme court affirmed, holding that the circuit court had correctly struck the plaintiff’s negligent hiring action on the basis of res judicata, a legal doctrine that “bars subsequent actions by the same parties when the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence that was the subject of a prior action between those parties.” (In the prior action, the jury had found that the company for which the security officer worked was negligent in hiring him but that this negligence was not a proximate cause of the decedent’s death.)

The court went on to hold that the circuit court was also correct in barring evidence of the negligent hiring claim in the retrial on the negligence claim but noted that the plaintiff had the right to present relevant and otherwise admissible evidence of his negligence claim in the retrial, regardless of whether that evidence would also have supported his negligent hiring action. In so holding, the court acknowledged that some disagreement could arise as to which specific evidence was to be admitted at the retrial but pointed out that the trial court was in a better position to review the evidence and determine its admissibility.

To Find Out More About South Carolina Law

There are many different kinds of automobile accidents, most of which are caused by the negligence of motorists and truckers. Liability for some accidents may lie elsewhere, however, such as with a governmental entity or a corporate defendant. At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices, we handle all kinds of motor vehicle accident cases. If you or a loved one has been hurt in Spartanburg, Greenville, or elsewhere in South Carolina, give us a call at 864-582-5118. We’ll be glad to set up a free consultation for you.

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