Well the holidays are well over (sniff, sniff)...but the Super Bowl is on the way! So behold! I give you the "Snack Stadium!" It is a fitting illustration for this wrap-up to my 2011 holiday series surveying South Carolina's food products liability case law. I thought it would be a good idea to do a final post to summarize everything I learned in the survey. There were four different posts with a variety of cases, so let's bring some order to all of it.
1. First, it is probably helpful to have all of the cases surveyed in one spot. Therefore, set forth below is the cite of each case mentioned in the series and a parenthetical of the alleged issue with the food/beverage.
- Merchant v. Columbia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 214 S.C. 206, 51 S.E.2d 749 (1949) (exploding bottle, plaintiff injured by fragments);
- Boyd v. Marion Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 240 S.C. 383, 384, 126 S.E.2d 178, 179 (1962) (exploding bottle, plaintiff injured by fragments); and
- Wallace v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 300 S.C. 518, 389 S.E.2d 155 (Ct. App. 1989) (exploding bottle, plaintiff injured during slip and fall while cleaning up beverage).
(Hard Substance in Food)
- Delk v. Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., 180 S.C. 436, 186 S.E. 383 (1936) (tobacco plug with tack in it);
- Irick v. Peoples Baking Co., 187 S.C. 238, 196 S.E. 887 (1938) (glass in piece of cake);
- McKenzie v. Peoples Baking Co., 205 S.C. 149, 31 S.E.2d 154 (1944) (piece of steel in piece of cake);
- Coward v. Borden Foods, Inc., 267 S.C. 423, 229 S.E.2d 262 (1976) (unidentified hard substance in Cracker Jacks); and
- Creach v. Sara Lee Corp., 331 S.C. 461, 502 S.E.2d 923 (1998) (biscuit with rock in it).
(Insect/Animal in Beverage)
- Tate v. Mauldin, 157 S.C. 392, 154 S.E. 431 (1930) (dead rat/mouse carcas in soft drink);
- Culbertson v. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 157 S.C. 352, 154 S.E. 424 (1930) (dead yellow jacket in soft drink);
- Burnette v. Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 157 S.C. 359, 154 S.E. 645 (1930) (dead "bug" in soft drink);
- Floyd v. Florence Nehi Bottling Co, 188 S.C., 98, 198 S.E. 161 (1938) (dead flies in soft drink);
- Hobbs v. Carolina Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 194 S.C. 543, 10 S.E.2d 25 (1940) (decomposed cockroach or other bug in soft drink); and
- Cohen v. Allendale Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 291 S.C. 35, 351 S.E.2d 897 (Ct. App. 1987) (insect in soft drink).
- Housand v. Armour & Co., 173 S.C. 268, 175 S.E. 516 (1934) (sickness after eating "oil sausages" a/k/a "potted meat");
- Hollis v. Armour & Co., 190 S.C. 170, 2 S.E.2d 681 (1939) (sickness after eating "oil sausages" a/k/a "potted meat);
- Boylston v. Armour & Co., 196 S.C. 1, 12 S.E.2d 34 (1940) (sickness after eating ham with a "bluish-greenish cast");Gantt v. Columbia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 193 S.C. 51, 7 S.E.2d 641 (1940) (sickness after drinking soft drink containing copper sulfate); and
- Fowler v. Coastal Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 252 S.C. 579, 167 S.E.2d 572 (1969) (sickness after drinking soft drink with slimy substance determined to be yeast).
2. Although I divided the cases by their factual circumstances (e.g. exploding bottles, insects in beverages, etc.), this decision was purely for blogging purposes. The application of the law is very similar regardless of the different factual circumstances. I did not think the series would be very interesting if consisted of just a recitation of the applicable law. By dividing and categorizing the cases, I was able to survey each group over four or five blog posts. The application of the law is fairly consistent regardless of the alleged problem with the food/beverage.
3. If you are going to only read one case to get a general idea of the law, I would advise reading Tate v. Mauldin, 157 S.C. 392, 154 S.E. 431 (1930). This is the earliest South Carolina case where the court admits that it has not addressed food adulteration in the past, and it is also the most widely cited in later decisions. In Tate, the court surveys case law and sets forth the basic principles for South Carolina food products liability law. If you want to read the most interesting case for products liability analysis, read Wallace v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 300 S.C. 518, 389 S.E.2d 155 (Ct. App. 1989). Although the case involves an exploding bottle, the alleged injury happened when the plaintiff slipped and fell during the clean-up. Wallace has some interesting analysis of causation and foreseeability.
4. Generally, these cases are not very kind to defendants. The general factual scenario is usually (a) plaintiff finds problem with food and is injured, (b) plaintiff brings a lawsuit, (c) plaintiff gets a verdict at trial, (d) defendant appeals on grounds that its motions for non-suit, directed verdict, etc. should have been granted, (e) the appellate court reviews the evidence, cites to the applicable food statute, and states that the alleged problem with the food is a violation of same, (f) the violation of the statute is found to be evidence of per se negligence, and (g) the appellate court affirms judgment. Obviously, there are some exceptions as set forth in some of the surveyed cases, but the cases generally seem to follow this general fact pattern.
That's the gist of it folks. I may convert this survey to an article that does a better job of summarizing the law, as opposed to surveying the cases. If/when that happens, I will let you know.