Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Case Brief: Harris v. Rose's Stores, Inc.

Today's case brief is of Harris v. Rose's Stores, Inc., 315 S.C. 344, 433 S.E.2d 905 (Ct. App. 1993). This case stands for the principle that causation in a products liability case must be based on "probability," as opposed to mere "possibility."

FACTUAL BACKGROUND: A fire at a residence killed a minor child. 315 S.C. at 345, 433 S.E.2d at 906. The fire was alleged to have been caused by a ceiling fan. Id. The fan was sold by Defendant Rose's ("Rose's") to Defendant Edgar Gregory ("Gregory"), the landlord of the burned residence. Id.

PROCEDURE: Plaintiff Pamela Harris (personal representative deceased's estate and hereinafter, "Plaintiff") brought wrongful death and survival actions against Rose's under a products liability theory. 315 S.C. at 345, 433 S.E.2d at 906. The trial court granted Rose's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim and and on a cross-claim asserted by Gregory against Rose's. Id. Plaintiff appealed. Id.

ISSUE: Whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Rose's based on Plaintiff's belief that she had produced sufficient circumstantial evidence that the ceiling fan, which the fire totally destroyed, was defective and a substantial contributing cause of the fire. 315 S.C. at 345, 433 S.E.2d at 906.

DISPOSITION: The South Carolina Court of Appeals held that the trial court's grant of summary judgment was proper. 315 S.C. at 347, 433 S.E.2d at 907.

RULES AND OPINION: Plaintiff relied on the deposition testimony of her expert witness and a non-expert to establish the elements of her case. 315 S.C. at 346, 433 S.E.2d at 906-07. The expert was unable to point to any direct evidence that the fan was defective and caused the fire. 315 S.C. at 346, 433 S.E.2d at 907. The most he could say was that it was "possible" that the fan caused the fire, with other factors being equally as likely to have caused it. Id. The non-expert also could not establish that the fan was the cause of the fire. Id. "Causation based upon a possibility rather than a probability is not sufficient for a plaintiff to recover in a products liability case." Id. (citing Am Law Prod Liab 3d section 4:34, at 44 (1987). On this basis, the court held that Plaintiff had not met her burden of proof in establishing that Rose's negligence was the proximate cause of the injuries. 315 S.C. at 346-47, 433 S.E.2d at 907.

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