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Garrison v. Target Corp.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

May 15, 2019, Heard; January 15, 2020, Filed

Opinion No. 5711

Opinion

 [*24]  GEATHERS, J.: In this negligence action, Appellants/Respondents, Carla Denise Garrison and Clint Garrison (the Garrisons), challenge the circuit court's order setting aside the jury's $4.5 million punitive damages award, arguing (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that the conduct of Respondent/Appellant Target Corporation (Target) was reckless, willful, or wanton; (2) the verdict was not excessive; and (3) Target waived the application of the punitive damages caps set forth in section 15-32-530(A) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2019). The Garrisons [**2]  also challenge the circuit court's pre-judgment interest award, arguing the circuit court erred by calculating the interest on compensatory damages only. Target appeals the circuit court's denial of its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability, arguing there was insufficient evidence of Target's constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on its premises. Target also appeals the denial of its motion for a new trial absolute, arguing the punitive damages award reflected the jury's passion, caprice, and prejudice. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a remittitur of the jury's punitive damages award.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 21, 2014, Appellant/Respondent Carla Denise Garrison (Denise) and her eight-year-old daughter (Daughter) visited the Target store in Anderson. After parking her car, Denise retrieved her coupon book and placed it on the hood of the car to examine it. As she was examining the coupon book, Denise heard Daughter ask, "Mommy, what is this?" Denise turned her attention to Daughter and saw her holding a syringe with a needle in it. Denise "immediately reacted" by swatting the syringe out of Daughter's hand, exclaiming, [**3]  "Don't ever pick anything like that up, that's dirty, that's nasty." When Denise swatted the syringe, the needle punctured her right palm, and she noticed a bead of blood emerge from the puncture site.

Denise went inside the store to wash her hands several times and called her husband, Appellant/Respondent Clint Garrison (Clint). Clint advised Denise to report the incident, so Denise spoke to the store manager, Shelby Brintnall, and they both took photographs of the syringe lying in the parking lot. Brintnall took possession of the syringe and completed a "Guest Incident Report" form, recounting the incident as Denise had relayed it to her.1 In response to the form's question, "Was the floor/ground clean and dry," Brintnall checked the "No" box. Brintnall also advised Denise to get medical treatment and give the bill to her. After Denise left the store, Brintnall completed a second report that was entitled "LOD Investigation Report."2 In this report, Brintnall indicated that she did not see a needle in the syringe.

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838 S.E.2d 18 *; 2020 S.C. App. LEXIS 7 **; 2020 WL 216297

Carla Denise Garrison and Clint Garrison, Appellants/Respondents, v. Target Corporation, Respondent/Appellant.

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by Garrison v. Target Corp., 2020 S.C. App. LEXIS 22 (S.C. Ct. App., Feb. 20, 2020)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal From Anderson County. R. Keith Kelly, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2017-000267.

Disposition: AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

CORE TERMS

Target, cap, award of punitive damages, affirmative defense, punitive damages, circuit court, damages, syringe, ratio, parking lot, trial court, potential harm, waived, notice, reckless, willful, cleaning, cases, due process, post-trial, insured, invoke, wanton, pled, compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, appellate court, unfair surprise, new trial, circumstances

Civil Procedure, Trials, Judgment as Matter of Law, Judgment Notwithstanding Verdict, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Remedies, Damages, Punitive Damages, Torts, Premises & Property Liability, General Premises Liability, Dangerous Conditions, Jury Trials, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Types of Damages, Punitive Damages, Aggravating Circumstances, Directed Verdicts, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Clear & Convincing Proof, Substantive Due Process, Scope, Measurement of Damages, Determinative Factors, Statutory Requirements, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Responses, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Affirmative Defenses, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Waiver & Preservation of Defenses, Affirmative Defenses, Burdens of Proof, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Sovereign Immunity, Immunity, Alternative Motions for New Trials, Jury Trials, Province of Court & Jury, Judgments, Relief From Judgments, Additur & Remittitur