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15 2017 Feb

Product Defect – Plaintiff’s $3M Victory Against Ford Reversed by 4th Circuit

4th Circuit Reverses $3M Jury Award in Auto Design Defect Case

On Feb. 1, 2017, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reserved a West Virginia trial court on the basis the trial court erred in admitting expert testimony about an alleged design defect specific to a 2001 Ford Ranger truck.  The plaintiff alleged that the trucks's speed control cable would malfunction and prevent the operator of the truck from slowing.   The jury awarded the Plaintiff $3M.  The District Court denied all of Ford's post-trial motions.The 4th Circuit reversed the large award and remanded the case back to the court for entry of judgment in favor of Ford Motor Co.  

For an introduction to product defect actions in South Carolina, visit our Product Defect page

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals based it's decision on the trial court's misapplication of the Fed. Rules of Evidence, Rule 702, and more specifically the Daubert standard.  In a nutshell, the 4th Circuit held that the trial court failed to consider the reliability of plaintiff's expert's design defect testimony, as the Plaintiff failed to present evidence that their expert's opinion was widely accepted in the relevant engineering community.  Plaintiff's expert also performed no tests to support his opinions.  On this basis the Court of Appeals held that the Plaintiff's expert's testimony should not have been admitted, and without any additional expert testimony to establish the truck was defectively designed, and that there were safer alternative designs available that would have been adopted by a reasonably prudent manufacturer, the Plaintiff could not prove his case under the law of West Virginia.  The case is styled Nease v. Ford Motor Co.

Please feel free to contact attorney Milt Stratos II should you have any questions or concerns regarding automotive product defect claims in South Carolina. 

22 2016 Nov

Unlawful Arrest & False Imprisonment

False Arrest and Imprisonment in South Carolina

To bring a claim of false arrest and false imprisonment in South Carolina the pivotal issue is whether or not the underlying arrest, or the arrest warrant, was made on the basis of probable cause.  The plaintiff carries the burden of demonstrating lack of probable cause. Thus, the question becomes, did the arresting officer have probable cause to make the arrest, and if a warrant was required did the warrant sufficiently state facts that establish probable cause needed to make the arrest? 

The State, an agency, a political subdivision, and a governmental entity are liable for their torts in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, subject to the limitations upon liability and damages, and exceptions from liability and damages contained therein. S.C.. Code Ann. § 15-78-40 (Supp. 1998).

The South Carolina Court of Appeals articulates the probable cause test in Anthony Gist v. Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. “The fundamental issue in determining the lawfulness of an arrest is whether there was "probable cause" to make the arrest. Wortman v. Spartanburg, 310 S.C. 1, 425 S.E.2d 18 (1992). "Probable cause is defined as a good faith belief that a person is guilty of a crime when this belief rests upon such grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe likewise." Id. at 4, 425 S.E.2d at 19. "In determining the presence of probable cause for arrest, the probability cannot be technical, but must be factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable, prudent and cautious men, not legal technicians, act." Summersell v. South Carolina Dep't of Pub. Safety, 334 S.C. 357, 365, 513 S.E.2d 619, 623 (Ct. App. 1999). The issue of probable cause is a question of fact and ordinarily one for the jury. Wortman, 310 S.C. 1, 425 S.E.2d 18.

If it is found that there is no probable cause for an arrest then one arrested without cause may bring a host of claims under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act against the arresting authority, including but not limited to the following:

  1. False Arrest and False Imprisonment;
  2. Malicious Prosecution;
  3. Negligence;
  4. Assault and Battery
  5. Excessive Force and Illegal Seizure;
  6. Negligent Hiring, Retention, or Supervision of Employees;
  7. Abuse of Civil Rights, Section 1983 Actions.​

False Arrest and Imprisonment

In order to recover under a theory of false arrest in South Carolina the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant caused the plaintiff to be arrested; (2) the decision to arrest was intentional; and (3) the arrest was unlawful in that it was done without probable cause. “The essence of the tort of false imprisonment consists of depriving a person of his liberty without lawful justification.” Jones v. City of Columbia, 301 S.C. 62, 64, 389 S.E.2d 662, 663 (1990).

In order to prevail on a claim for false imprisonment, the plaintiff must establish: (1) the defendant restrained the plaintiff, (2) the restraint was intentional, and (3) the restraint was unlawful. Andrews v. Piedmont Air Lines, 297 S.C. 367, 377 S.E.2d 127 (Ct. App. 1989). False imprisonment is an intentional tort; negligence is not an element. See Jeffcoat v. Caine, 261 S.C. 75, 198 S.E.2d 258 (1973).

Restraint constituting a false arrest may be committed by words alone or acts alone, or by both, and may operate merely on the will of the individual, or by personal violence, or by both. It is not necessary that the individual be confined within a certain area, a prison, or within walls, or that he be assaulted, or even touched. The tort of false arrest does not require an actual injurious touching. It is not necessary that there should be any injury done to the individual's person, or to his character, or reputation. Nor is it necessary that the wrongful act be committed with malice, ill-will, or even with the slightest wrongful intention. Further, it is unnecessary that the act be under color of any legal or judicial proceeding. All that is necessary is that the individual be arrested without probable cause based on the acts and omissions of the defendant. Dorn v. Town of Prosperity (D.S.C. August 6, 2008).

Malicious Prosecution

The elements of a malicious prosecution claim are: (1) institution of judicial proceedings, by the defendant, (2) termination of the proceedings in the plaintiff's favor, (3) malice, (4) lack of probable cause, and (5) damage. Jordan v. Deese, 317 S.C. 260, 452 S.E.2d 838, 879 (1995).

Have you been charged with a crime or arrested without probable cause? If you believe that you have please contact an attorney immediately. Milt Stratos II is a South Carolina lawyer with experience bringing wrongful arrest and false imprisonment claims.  Contact Us today for a FREE consultation.

22 2016 Nov

South Carolina Jury Awards $150,000 in South Carolina False Arrest Case

South Carolina Jury Awards $150,000 in South Carolina False Arrest Case

On November 9, 2016, a York County jury awarded a six figure verdict to a local gentleman who successfully raised the castle doctrine after having allegedly defended himself on his property from an aggressive neighbor.  In a strange twist of events, the Plaintiff was later charged by the local Sheriffs’s office and arrested for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.   

The local solicitor later dismissed the criminal charges on the basis that the Plaintiff was in fact acting under color of the law, specifically the S.C.. Protection of Persons and Property Act, when he defended himself from the aggressive neighbor.  

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed suit under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, and alleged the Sheriff’s office acted without cause (false arrest), and asserted a claim of malicious prosecution.   The jury sided with the Plaintiff after short deliberation.  The case is styled Shane Carter v. Sheriff Bruce Bryant, 2014-CP-46-01307.

Have you been charged with a crime or arrested without probable cause? If you believe that you have please contact an attorney immediately. Milt Stratos II is a South Carolina lawyer with experience in wrongful arrest and imprisonment.  Contact Us today for a FREE consultation.

8 2016 Nov

SOUTH CAROLINA PASSES ANTI MUG SHOT EXTORTION LAW

SOUTH CAROLINA PASSES ANTI MUG SHOT LAW

South Carolina residents and those arrested in South Carolina, and their loved ones, may soon reap the benefits of new law aimed at putting an end to extortious mug shot websites that until now have operated on the fringes of the law to extort thousands of individuals arrested in South Carolina. 

Mug shot websites extract publicly available South Carolina booking photos and arrest records from local governments, and post the information on their websites. This act in and of itself is harmless and perfectly legal.  However, the mug shot sites then employ a cunning search engine optimization (“SEO”) strategy to make sure that a Google search of an arrestee’s name results in a mug shot image and record being placed among the first search results.  Significantly, Google images places high relevance on the mug shot websites images, which results in booking photos showing up nearly first in Google. (Google is allegedly changing their search algorithm to make mug shot websites less relevant).  Mug shot sites then charge anywhere from $99.00 – $399.000 to remove the booking photo and arrest data from their site, regardless of whether an arrest was unlawful, or the charge was dismissed and expunged.  With numerous mug shot websites operating at one time, and new sites coming to life regularly, an arrestee could potentially spend thousands trying to protect their image on the web.

Signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley and effective May 16, 2016, South Carolina, generally not known for being at the forefront of progressive, consumer protection legislation, published an amended Section 17, Criminal Procedure, making the lucrative practice of requiring a fee to remove booking photos and records from a website unlawful.  A link to the new law

Key Points of S.C. § 17-1-60:

1.   Jurisdiction.  The law includes “transacting business in South Carolina” language, which potentially extends the court’s jurisdiction such that the owners of offending mug shot sites may be forced to litigate in South Carolina.

2.   Unlawful.  The law makes it unlawful to obtain booking photos or records knowing:

a. they will be posted to a website or any other publication; and

b. removal or revision of the record requires payment of a fee or other consideration.

3.   Unlawful II.  A catchall subsection, § 17-1-60(C), makes it unlawful to require the payment of a fee or other consideration to remove, revise, or refrain from posting to a website or any other publication the arrest and booking records of a person arrested in South Carolina.

4.   Removal.  If an arrestee’s charge was discharged, dismissed, expunged, or the person was found not guilty, you may request that an offending website remove your booking photo and records if you comply with the formal requirements under the law.  The mug shot website must comply with the request within 30 days.  If they fail, and your request was proper, you may file suit, seek damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.

5.   Government Liability.  The law further makes it unlawful for an employee of a state or local government agency to provide booking records knowing:

a. it will be published on a nongovernmental website or any other publication; and

b. removal or revision of the arrest or booking records requires the payment of a fee.

Attorney Milt Stratos II has successfully defeated mug shot web sites with and without this new legislation, and forced the offending sites to delete a client’s image and booking records permanently.  If you or a family member is a target of mug shot websites, and your mug shot on the web represents a significant PR issue, please contact attorney Milt Stratos II, at Stratos Law, LLC to schedule a consultation. 

22 2016 Jun

Underinsured Car Insurance: South Carolina Federal Court Expands the Traditional Meaning of “Use”

South Carolina courts have historically held that auto insurance covers injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an automobile if there is a causal connection between the vehicle and the injury the vehicle must be an "active accessory" to the injury.  A Federal Court in South Carolina recently applied a broad interpretation of the law in Margaret Cramer v. National Casualty Co. In doing so the court may have expanded what constitutes “use” of a vehicle for purposes of determining whether or not auto insurance will indemnify parties injured while not necessarily using a vehicle in the traditional sense of the word (driving).

South Carolina courts have had the task of determining whether or not a party is using an insured vehicle so as to trigger coverage many times.  These scenarios are normally unique, they generally involve severely injured parties, and they commonly do not involve an insured, or the at-fault party, literally driving a vehicle when a party is injured.  Examples of fact patterns the courts have faced include:

  1. passengers in a taxi cab attempting to rob the taxi and the taxi crashed into a parked vehicle;
  2. driver fatally wounded by a shotgun while sitting in a vehicle – the vehicle was running, but it was in park in the driver's driveway;
  3. passenger shot by an assailant while occupying a vehicle;
  4. individual shot by assailant while the individual stood next to his car in a parking lot;
  5. insured pinned by car after the vehicle unexpectedly rolled.

In Margaret Cramer v. National Casualty Co. an ambulance driver was returning to his ambulance when he was struck by a driver.  In this case, the underinsured (UIM) policy contained a provision covering insureds "occupying" the vehicle, which is traditionally defined by South Carolina courts as covering insureds "getting in" their vehicle.  Here, the court construed the UIM policy liberally in favor of coverage, and ruled that returning to a vehicle was enough to establish the causal connection between the vehicle and the claimant's use of the vehicle.

Am I covered by my own auto insurance if the at-fault driver doesn't have enough insurance to cover my loss?  The answer depends on whether or not your injury arose from the ownership, maintenance, or use of the vehicle.  This "use" may also be further defined in your insurance contract to include "occupying" the vehicle at the time injury arose.  If you or a family member was seriously injured in a South Carolina car crash, and the at-fault driver is underinsured, you may contact a lawyer at Stratos Law to discuss all options available to you.

Call Stratos Law at 843-216-7739, or contact us using our website.

23 2014 Sep

South Carolina Judge Settles Defamation Suit Following $6M Verdict

$6M South Carolina Defamation Verdict Settled After Appeal Lodged

A Hilton Head Island, South Carolina Judge won a $6M verdict in 2012 against Sea Pines Community Services Association and the association’s chief of security, and the Judge has reached a settlement after the defendants appealed the verdict.

The original defamation suit was brought by Judge Coffey after the chief of security at Sea Pines allegedly falsified police reports, told the Sheriff's Office that Judge Coffey's step-brother was responsible for crimes in Sea Pines and falsely reported that Judge Coffey was covering up and interfering with the investigation of her brother.  Following six days of testimony and having found that Coffey proved by clear and convincing evidence that the Defendants made statements about Coffey that were false or that they should have known were false, the jury returned the $6M verdict in favor of Judge Coffey.  The defendants appealed the verdict based on the fact that financial information regarding a Sea Pines reserve fund was improperly put before the jury and introduced into evidence.

The settlement approval documents filed with the court do not reveal the amount of the settlement.


Please feel free to visit our Defamation Page to learn more about defamation in South Carolina.  If you feel that you may have been the victim of false and defamatory language please contact Milton Stratos, a South Carolina lawyer, for a fee-free consultation.

12 2014 Aug

Bringing a Medical Malpractice Claim in South Carolina

Murky Waters of Medical Malpractice Procedure Clarified By Supreme Court

The South Carolina Supreme Court recently overturned a decision by the Charleston County Circuit Court that had dismissed a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim based on her failure to strictly adhere to statutory formalities of initiating a medical practice action action.  The Court’s decision helped clarify the process to commence a medical malpractice action – a procedure that is purposefully irregular with the legislative intent being to weed out frivolous claims by allowing for pre-litigation discovery and mediation. 

In the case of Wilkinson v. East Cooper community Hospital, et al, the Circuit Court dismissed Ms. Wilkinson’s medical malpractice claim with prejudice where she failed to file an affidavit of a medical expert contemporaneously with her complaint, despite the fact that an expert affidavit was filed previously with the court.  Under South Carolina law, a Notice of Intent to File Suit (“NOI”) must be filed before the Summons and Complaint can be filed  See § 15-79-125.  An affidavit of an expert witness must be filed contemporaneously with the NOI.  Id.  The parties are then required to participate in mediation within ninety (90) days of the NOI filing, see § 15-79-125(C), and if mediation is unsuccessful, then the plaintiff would have sixty (60) days from the end of mediation to file his or her complaint even if the statute of limitations has expired, see § 15-79-125(E).  Finally, § 15-36-100 requires that filing of the complaint must include an expert affidavit in support of the allegations.  If, however, the complaint is filed within ten (10) days of statute of limitation’s expiration, and an expert witness affidavit could not be obtained due to time restraints, then the plaintiff is allowed a forty-five (45) day window to supplement the complaint with a supporting affidavit from an expert witness.  See § 15-36-100(C)(1). 

In Wilkinson, the plaintiff filed a NOI approximately four days before the expiration of the statute of limitations, but she failed to file a supporting expert affidavit at that time, stating that she would file one shortly.  The plaintiff then filed her expert affidavit a month later.  In accordance with the statutory requirement, the parties participated in mediation, but were unsuccessful in settling, and Plaintiff filed her complaint five days after the failed mediation (now approximately four months past the statute of limitations).  The Defendant moved to dismiss the claim with prejudice alleging that (1) the statute of limitations had expired; (2) the statute of limitations was not tolled due to plaintiff’s failure to file an expert affidavit with her NOI; and (3) plaintiff did not file an expert affidavit with her complaint and she further failed to supplement the complaint with an affidavit within forty-five (45) days.  The circuit court found for the defendants, dismissing the complaint with prejudice, but the Supreme Court took the appeal on Wilkinson’s motion to certify and disagreed, reversing and remanding the lower court’s decision.  The Court held that the expert affidavit filed after Wilkinson’s NOI should satisfy the requirements outlined in § 15-36-100, and that by filing her NOI within the ten (10) days before the expiration of the statute of limitations, Ms. Wilkinson effectively tolled the SOL and was permitted to file her expert affidavit within forty-five (45) days.  The Court held that to require another expert affidavit to be filed with the complaint would be unnecessarily duplicative.  “[S]uch an interpretation is consistent with the Court’s decisions to permit medical malpractice cases to proceed on the merits rather than to affirm unwarranted dismissals based on technical compliance with the medical malpractice statutes.”  Wilkinson v. East Cooper Regional Medical Center, et al., opinion no. 27423 (S.C. July 23, 2014).

 

20 2014 Jun

Fatal Car Accident in Mount Pleasant, SC

Single Car Accident Results in Fatality

June 3, 2014

Investigators report that a person was killed Monday night, June 3, 2014, in a car accident in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Investigators claim that a white SUV exploded after hitting a pile of rocks.  By the time investigators arrived on the scene the vehicle was engulfed in flames. Once the fire was put out by local Firefighters police found one individual in the car.  He was later identified as a 23 year old male from Mount Pleasant, SC. (His name will not be printed in this article.)  The incident occurred around 10 p.m. at the intersection of Seacost Parkway and Shoals Drive, and is still under investigation.  Fore more regarding this incident you may visit the Post and Courier

If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic injury please contact Milton Stratos, of Stratos Law, LLC, a car accident lawyer with over 25 years of experience. 

30 2014 May

Product Defect News, Ford Recalling 1.4 Million Vehicles

FORD ISSUES AN ADDITIONAL RECALL OF GREATER THAN 1M VEHICLE

May 30, 2014

Dearborn, Michigan based Ford announced Thursday a recall of 1.4 million vehicles, nearly all of which are in the United States and Canada. The recall includes more than 1 million year 2008-2011 SUVs with a power steering defect, nearly 200,000 Taurus four door cars with due to an apparent corrosion issue, and 82,576 sedans with floor mats that could interfere with the accelerator.

It was reported by Reuters that the power steering issue, loss of pressure, occurred at lower speeds, and increased the risk of a crash.  Ford has acknowledged that the defect has caused 15 accidents including two that resulted in injuries.

Regarding the logistics of the recall, a Ford spokeswoman stated that "dealers will perform one of three service fixes, depending upon what diagnostic codes are shown when the vehicle is taken to the dealer.” "They will either update software for the power steering control module and the instrument cluster module; replace the torque sensor; or replace the steering column, which includes upgraded power steering control module software."

Read more→

12 2014 May

Lancaster County, S.C. – Deadly Single Vehicle Crash on Mother’s Day

Lancaster County, S.C. – Deadly Single Vehicle Crash Reported

A single vehicle car wreck resulted in the death of its driver early Sunday morning.  South Carolina Highway Patrol stated that the vehicle was headed southbound down McIllwein Road when the driver overcorrected and ran off the roadway just before 5:00 am on Mother’s Day.   The Driver was operating a Mazda 6 when the car left the road, and struck a bridge and utility pole.  The driver was not wearing a seatbelt, and died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident it is advisable to contact a South Carolina car accident lawyer who may provide you with timely and critical legal advice.  Please feel free to contact Stratos Law, LLC to speak with a personal injury lawyer who will advise you of your rights and duties under this type of scenario.