June 5, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Gause v Smithers and Hunt

Gause was injured when Smithers ran into his police car. Gause was waiting for a tow truck to move a car Hunt’s son left in a lane of traffic when pulled over for DUI. Gause sued Hunt under the family purpose doctrine. The jury found for Gause and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The Court, 3-2, affirmed in part and reversed in part. The majority held that Hunt was liable under the family purpose doctrine as he was the head of the household, his son lived with him, Hunt owned the car, paid taxes on it and could take it away from son. The majority also held that as an agency theory, suit against Hunt was permitted as a plaintiff does not need to sue the agent to obtain a judgment against the principal. As the act of leaving a car in a lane of traffic creates a foreseeable risk of collision, the majority affirmed the compensatory damage award. However, it reversed the punitive damage award declining to be the first state to allow punitive damages under the family purposes doctrine. It reasoned that the doctrine existed to make a more solvent parent bear the cost of damages caused by a less solvent child and it makes no sense to stretch the doctrine to allow punitive damages. Chief Justice Toal agreed with the majority as to punitive damages. However, she dissented as to liability arguing that the family purposes doctrine did not apply on these facts because liability under the doctrine is indivisible and son could not be liable here on statute of limitations grounds. She therefore argued that the case should have been dismissed and the trial court erred in not doing so. She also argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict as Hunt agreed to sell the car to son, son maintained the car and son was only authorized to drive to work. He was returning home from a strip club when pulled over, so, the use was not authorized. Finally, Chief Justice Toal argued that it was not foreseeable that Gause would leave the car in the lane of traffic and merely sit behind it in his police car then be hit by another drunk driver. Thus there was no proximate causation. She concluded that the family purpose doctrine should be abolished in this state. Justice Kittredge dissented and joined Chief Justice Toals’s opinion as to the doctrine’s applicability and the need to dismiss the case.

In the Matter of Christopher John Van Son

Son sent solicitation letters to South Carolina residents which failed to comply with the then applicable ethic rules. He failed to cooperate with the investigation by not answering the complaint and not claiming certified mail to his California office. The bar entered a default order and recommended a five year ban on solicitation or admission in South Carolina. The Court held the letters and failure to cooperate violated state ethics rules and banned Son from soliciting clients in south Carolina or obtaining any type of admissions for five years which will run from eh date Son is again in good standing with the California bar.

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