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Case Number: 2020-000523
Court: Supreme Court of South Carolina on appeal from the Circuit Court of Anderson County
Defendant's Attorney: Lewis F. Powell, III, George P. Sibley, III, John Carroll Moylan, II, Henry L. Parr, Jr. and Wallace K. Lightsey
Description: Anderson, South Carolina plaintiff Personal injury lawyers sued Defendant on constructive notice negligence theories.
On the evening of May 21, 2014, Denise Garrison went to Target in Anderson,
South Carolina with her eight -year-old daughter. Upon her arrival at the store,
Denise parked her car in Target's parking lot, and she and her daughter exited the
vehicle. Before entering the store, however, Denise retrieved her coupon book from
her car, placed it on the hood, and proceeded to examine it. Suddenly, holding what
appeared to be a hypodermic needle in her hand, her daughter showed the object to
Denise and asked, "Mommy, what is this?" Denise responded instinctively by
swatting the syringe out of her daughter's hand.
Immediately, Denise noticed the syringe had punctured the palm of her hand,
as a bead of blood started to form, and she and her daughter rushed into the store's bathroom where she washed her hands repeatedly, four or five times. Denise and
her daughter both became very upset at what had just occurred, and Denise called
her husband, Clint, to tell him what happened. He told her to notify a Target
employee of the incident so the syringe could be removed from the parking lot.
Denise informed Target's store manager , who apologized for what happened. In
fact, Denise believed the manager assured her that her medical bills would be paid,
testifying that the manager said "bring us the bill." The manager completed a guest
incident report, detailing Denise's description of the incident and listing the cause as
a needle in the parking lot. She also accompanied Denise to the parking lot to
retrieve the syringe, and in her testimony, described it as "dirty and dingy" and that
it looked like it had "some wear on it." Nevertheless, the manager indicated in an
investigation report that she did not see a needle in the syringe.
The next day, Denise visited the emergency room, where she was treated for
a needle prick/stick. However, the ER nurse told Denise there was nothing further
they could do and referred her to an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Potts. The
doctor prescribed Denise several medications to prevent her from developing HIV
or hepatitis. The medications caused her to feel dizzy, lose her balance, have an
upset stomach, have vivid night terrors, and pu t her into a "zombie -like state."
Denise also had to undergo blood draws every three months for a year to confirm
she had not been infected with a disease.
Soon after Denise began taking the medications, she received a phone call
from Target's investigator, who asked if she thought Target was responsible for her
injury. Denise told him she thought they were supposed to take care of the parking
lot and that she just wanted her medical bills and lab work paid. However, despite
Denise's belief that Target would cover her medical costs, Target refused to do so.
Subsequently, Denise filed an action against Target seeking damages for negligence,
including punitive damages. Shortly thereafter, Denise submitted to Target a
$12,000 offer of judgment, which Target did not accept. Denise, along with her
husband, proceeded to file a second action against Target, asserting causes of action
for negligence and loss of consortium. Target moved for summary judgment on all
claims, which the court denied. The case proceeded to a jury trial from September
6-8, 2016, following consolidation of the two actions.
* * *
At the close of the Garrisons' case, both parties moved for a directed verdict,
which the court denied. Other than cross-examining the Garrisons' witnesses, Target
did not put on a case-in-chief. Ultimately, the jury found Target was negligent and
awarded Denise $100,000 in compensatory damages and $4.51 million in punitive
damages. The jury also awarded Clint $3,500 for lost wages and $5,000 for loss of
consortium. Following trial, Target moved for a JNOV as to liability and punitive
damages, requesting in the alternative that a new trial absolute or new trial nisi
remittitur be granted. Target also moved for a reduction of the punitive damages
award to the statutory maximum pursuant to section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina
Code (Supp. 2020). In addition, the Garrisons moved to tax costs and interest against
Target pursuant to Rules 54 and 68, SCRCP.
* * *
Following a hearing on the parties' post-trial motions, the trial court denied
Target's motion for a JNOV as to liability, granted Target's motion for a JNOV as to
punitive damages, denied the Garrisons' motion to tax costs, and granted the
Garrisons' motion for interest.
Outcome: Target argues the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's denial of
its JNOV motion as to liability for Denise's injury because the Garrisons presented
insufficient evidence to prove Target had constructive notice of a dangerous
condition on its premises. Specifically, Target claims there was no evidence
presented to demonstrate how long the syringe had been in the parking lot prior to
Denise's injury such that Target should have discovered and removed it. Instead, in
Target's view, the jury was left to speculate based on the weathered and damaged
condition of the syringe and photographs of other trash and debris located in the area
where the syringe was found. In addition, Target asserts the court of appeals
erroneously relied on witness testimony regarding the appearance of the syringe to
establish the length of time it had been in the parking lot.