Nice and Steady

steeringwheelDo you remember when or how you learned to drive a car?  Well, maybe some of you out there in blogland are still in launch mode but for the rest of us,…well,….it was a magical moment.  I remember watching my dad drive on vacations.  I noted that as he drove, he would, seemingly randomly, turn the steering wheel back a forth like he was on the NASCAR race circuit.

Years later when I finally found myself behind the wheel, I mimicked my dad moving the wheel back and forth and darn near got myself killed.  Turns out that “seemingly randomly” turning of the wheel was his way of making slight corrections to stay down the middle of the street as he drove along the road.

I was reflecting on my dad’s driving as I was finishing up a research project I had prepared for my 1L class.  See, I’m from California and one of the great things about California (other than the beach, sand, beautiful…uh…people…) was that darn near everything legal is defined by a statute.  So, imagine my chagrin when I get to South Carolina and started looking for a statute to define negligence in South Carolina.  For those who know what I was up against, yeah – it was a real snipe hunt.

Turns out, there isn’t one (a statute defining “negligence, I mean).  Believe me, it doesn’t exist.  Of course, I didn’t know that until I turned the CSOL law library inside out looking for a statutory definition for Negligence.  First I started looking in South Carolina Jurisprudence.  Great discussion on negligence with reference to a number of fantastic cases and statutes, but nothing I was looking for.

Next, I moved on to:

  • Code of Laws of South Carolina 1976 titles 5, 15, 42, 47 and 57
  • South Carolina Rules of Court
  • Words and Phrases
  • American Jurisprudence, 2d
  • South Carolina Digest, 2d
  • West’s South Eastern Digest, 2d
  • South Eastern Reports
  • South Carolina Law Review (didn’t find what I wanted but did find a great article on comparative negligence in 58 S.C.L. Rev. 641)
  • South Carolina Reports
  • Trial Handbook for South Carolina Lawyers

Then I started get desperate and pulled:

  • Tort Law and Practice
  • Tort Law in America
  • Tort Law: Cases, Perspectives, and Problems
  • The Law of Torts, and even
  • Torts in a Nutshell

Nothing. I found nothing. Well, I didn’t not find anything, just nothing I was looking for.

Then I went on winter break and in between Santa and presents and snow, I got to thinking about negligence in South Carolina and a thought popped in my head – why not talk to someone who eats, sleeps, and drinks Torts like you eat, sleep, and drink legal research?!

Believe me, it was a bolt from heaven!

So, the week I got back to work from winter break, I reached out to an imminently qualified professor (dare I say “god”) of Torts, Nancy Zisk, who informed me that there was no all-encompassing statute defining negligence.  Nope, turns out, according to Ms. Zisk, South Carolina follows the theory of comparative negligence as outlined in Nelson v. Concrete Supply, 202 S.C. 243, 399 S.E.2d 783.  Of course, this was not the answer I was seeking but it was an answer that led me to other things.

Who knew that, notwithstanding my god-like legal research prowess, what I needed was to stop pounding my head against the proverbial wall and make a little course correction in my research approach.  In this case, that correction was to seek out another god-like professional – a Torts professor – to help guide me to a safe harbor.

So, next time you find that you can’t find what you need, maybe it’s time to make a correction in what you’re doing.  Yep, this legal research business is a lot like driving my dad’s car – turn the wheel a lot and you’ll find yourself upside down in a ditch.  Turn it a little and you live to see another day.

Oh, and thanks Nancy.  You are awesome!


Bret N. Christensen
Outreach, Instruction, & Reference Librarian
Charleston School of Law

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