COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) – The South Carolina Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court’s decision over the battle to use evidence of negligent hiring of security personnel in a lawsuit over the death of the sister of an alleged shoplifter at a Wal-Mart - which occurred in the subsequent car chase.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Lancaster County Circuit Court’s decision barring evidence in support of the negligent hiring claim unless that evidence is relevant to the negligence action at the heart of the lawsuit.
Wal-Mart, US Security Associates (USSA) and its employee, Derrick Jones, were sued by Travis A. Roddey, individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Alice Monique Beckham Hancock, who died in an automobile wreck shortly after being pursued by Jones, the March 14 opinion states.
According to the opinion, the series of events started when Wal-Mart employees suspected Alice Hancock's sister, Donna Beckham, of shoplifting. Wal-Mart employees allegedly told Jones, an on-duty Wal-Mart security guard who was working there through USSA, to detain her.
Beckham allegedly left the store and got into Hancock’s car. The opinion states Jones pursued Hancock out of the parking lot and onto the highway. Hancock died in a single-car accident shortly thereafter.
Hancock’s estate had previously filed suit alleging negligence in the hiring, training and supervision of Jones and for negligence in her death. The case has dragged on through several levels of the court and through appeals.
Wal-Mart moved for a directed verdict over claims the appellant failed to present evidence showing it breached its duty of care and that Hancock was more than 50 percent negligent for the injuries in the case.
The Supreme Court previously remanded the case for a new trial after determining the state's Court of Appeals erred in affirming the circuit court's decision granting Wal-Mart's motion for a directed verdict on the appellant's negligence action.
This latest ruling let the Supreme Court revisit its decision that previously found "there is evidence from which a jury could determine that Wal-Mart was negligent, and that its negligence proximately caused the injuries in this case” and remanded for a new trial. The respondents moved to exclude the negligent hiring action from retrial and the circuit court agreed.
The latest Supreme Court ruling has to do with whether the circuit court erred in striking the appellant's negligent hiring cause of action.
The Supreme Court ruled it did not err and its decision to grant a new trial only encompassed the negligence action since the negligent hiring action was not preserved for its review. This means attorneys for Hancock’s estate may present relevant evidence of negligence in the retrial regardless of whether that evidence could also support the negligent hiring action.