According to NBC4i.com, a South Carolina woman claims that she is entitled to compensation for injuries sustained while visiting a Goodwill store in Upstate Midlands, South Carolina. Apparently, the woman was shopping at the Goodwill when she sat down on a chair in order to test it out. She claims that the chair unexpectedly gave way causing her to fall onto the cement floor and suffer great bodily injury. The woman has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Goodwill seeking actual, compensatory, and punitive damages based on her assertion that the Goodwill failed to warn that the chair was weak or not designed to support more than a certain amount of weight.
South Carolina’s Premises Liability Laws in a Nutshell
This personal injury lawsuit filed against the Goodwill is based on premises liability. Premises liability cases involve personal injuries or deaths that occur because of a property owner’s negligence surrounding unsafe or dangerous conditions on their property. Common examples of premises liability cases include slip-and-fall accidents, escalator accidents, dog bites, and amusement park accidents.
In South Carolina, the plaintiff in a premises liability case must prove the following three elements in order to hold a property owner liable for their negligence:
- The property owner owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- The property owner breached that duty of care; and
- That the plaintiff suffered some sort of damage resulting from the property owner’s breached duty of care.
In order to determine whether or not the property owner owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, courts in South Carolina categorize the plaintiff as either an adult trespasser, a child, a licensee, or an invitee. These classifications are very important as our state imposes different standards of care on property owners depending on who is visiting their property.
- Adult Trespassers: Out of the four categories, property owners owe adult trespassers the least duty of care because trespassers are people who have entered the property without permission. In general, property owners only have a duty not to inflict willful or wanton injuries on adult trespassers.
- Children: In South Carolina children are owed varying degrees of duty depending on the circumstances. If the premises liability case involves a child, then you must first determine why the child entered the property. If the child trespassed, i.e. entered the property without the owner’s permission, they are treated differently than adult trespassers are and the property owner has a duty to reasonably avoid harm to the child caused by artificial conditions on the land.
- Licensees: Licensees are people who have the landowner’s consent to enter the premises, but who are there mainly for their own benefit. For example, a friend who comes over to your house for dinner, or a door-to-door salesman who walks up to your door, are both licensees. The property owner has a duty to warn licensees of dangerous conditions on the property, that he or she knows about and that the licensee is not likely able to discover, that create an unreasonable risk of harm.
- Invitees: Invitees are people who have the property owner’s permission, either expressed or implied, to enter the premises as a business guest. Property owners owe invitees the utmost duty of care, and generally have a duty to warn them of hidden dangers that the owner knows, or should have known, about.
Analyzing the Goodwill Chair Case Under South Carolina Law
In order to determine if the woman who was injured at the Goodwill is entitled to compensation based on her personal injury claim, the court would begin their analysis by categorizing the woman was either an adult trespasser, a child, an invitee, or a licensee. Provided that the Goodwill was open for business when the woman entered the store, it is safe to assume that she had the business’ implied consent for her to enter the premises in order to shop. Therefore, she can not be classified as a trespasser as trespassers enter without the property owner’s consent. Additionally, as far as we know the woman was full grown, so the court would not classify her as a child for premises liability purposes. Therefore, the woman must be classified as either a licensee or an invitee. Because the Goodwill is a store, and the woman entered the store in order to shop, a court in South Carolina would likely find that she entered the premises as a business guest and therefore should be classified as an invitee. Based on her classification as an invitee, the Goodwill owed the woman the utmost duty of care and was legally required to warn her of hidden dangers within the store that the Goodwill either knew, or should have known, about.
Did the Goodwill breach this duty of care? This is the key question at issue in this case, and both sides will present evidence indicating that the Goodwill either breached their duty or not. The important question is whether or not the chair represented a hidden danger that the woman was not warned about. We would need more information before being able to guess how a court may rule on this issue, but if the woman can prove that the chair represented a hidden danger, that the store did not adequately warn her of that danger, and that her injuries were proximately caused due to the store’s breach of duty, then she will likely win her case.
Need Legal Advice?
If you have been injured on someone else’s property and are interested in filing a personal injury claim based on premises liability, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at the Elrod Pope Law Firm today. Our South Carolina personal injury lawyers are committed to protecting our clients’ rights and would be happy to discuss your legal rights with you during a free consultation. Contact our office today for more information.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.