Friday, November 18, 2011

Case Brief: Samson v. Greenville Hospital System

Today's case brief is for a very brief (i.e., two pages) case, Samson v. Greenville Hospital System, 297 S.C. 409, 377 S.E.2d 311 (1989).  The case involves whether "blood" is a product for strict liability purposes.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND: Plaintiffs alleged Helen Samson contracted the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion given to her while she was a patient at a hospital.  297 S.C. at 409-10, 377 S.E.2d at 311.  Plaintiffs also alleged the blood was supplied by a blood center that colected, stored, and distributed blood received from donors.  Id.

PROCEDURE: Plaintiffs alleged a cause of action for strict liability against the distributing blood center.  297 S.C. at 410, 377 S.E.2d at 311.

ISSUE(S): The United States District Court certified a question to the South Carolina Supreme Court regarding whether blood is a product for purposes of a strict liability claim.  297 S.C. at 410, 377 S.E.2d at 311-12.

DISPOSITION: Blood is not a "product" for purposes of a strict liability claim.  297 S.C. at 409, 411, 377 S.E.2d at 311, 312.

RULES AND OPINION: The court cited to the strict liability statute at S.C. Code  § 15-73-10 (1976) and its application to products, not services.  297 S.C. at 410, 377 S.E.2d at 311.  The statute's plain language does not address whether blood is a product for purposes of strict liabilityId.  Therefore, the court had to assess whether the South Carolina State Legislature intended for blood to be a product or service and looked to earlier legislation dealing with blood to answer this question.  297 S.C. at 410, 377 S.E.2d at 311-12.

The court cited to S.C. Code  § 44-43-10 ("Applicability of implied warranties of merchantability and fitness"), which states as follows:
The implied warranties of merchantability and fitness are not applicable to a contract for the sale, procurement, processing, distribution, or use of human tissues including, but not limited to, corneas, bones or organs, whole blood, plasma, blood products, or blood derivatives. Human tissue, whole blood, plasma, blood products, and blood derivatives must not be considered commodities subject to sale or barter, and the transplanting, injection, transfusion, or other transfer of these substances into the human body are considered a medical service.
Id. at 410-11, 377 S.E.2d at 312.  Based on this language, the court held that the Legislature did not intend for blood to be classified as a product.  Id. at 411, 377 S.E.2d at 312.  "Furthermore, this construction is consistent with the underlying purpose of the blood shield statute [S.C. Code § 44-43-10], namely, to facilitate a readily available supply of blood by limiting liability to defects resulting from negligence."  Id.

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