Burnette v. Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Decision Date14 August 1930
Docket Number12961.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Appeal from Common Pleas Circuit Court of Aiken County; M. L Bonham, Judge.

Action by C. A. Burnette against Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Judgment for defendant, and plaintiff appeals.


Charge of the Circuit Judge requested to be reported was as follows:

The plaintiff, C. A. Burnette, in this action seeks to recover damages of the defendant, Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Company for injuries which he alleges he sustained in the manner set forth in this complaint.

He alleges that the defendant is a corporation, and its place of business is in Augusta, and it is engaged in manufacturing a non-alcoholic drink, food, or beverage, known as Coca-Cola, which it sells wholesale to the Seminole Mills in Aiken county, and to others detailed and dispenses to the public, and that it was sold in sealed bottles to the public and plaintiff alleges that on July 24, 1928, he bought of the Seminole Mills a bottle of Coca-Cola, the product of the defendant corporation, for which he paid six cents. That he started to drink and discovered some foreign substance in it--some deleterious product in it, the exact nature of which he did not know, the effect of which was to make him sick and that he was sick and caused to vomit for a time, and that he was caused to take to his bed for a time, and suffered great physical and mental damages in the sum of $2,995.

Now, the defendant in its answer denies generally the allegation of the complaint, except that it admits the residence of the plaintiff, and the corporate capacity of the defendant, and it alleges that it has its principal place of business in the city of Augusta, and that it has been engaged for several years in the manufacture of Coca-Cola, which it sells to various dealers in the county of Aiken, and state of South Carolina and other places, to be retailed and sold to the general public for human consumption, and that said Coca-Cola is placed in sealed bottles when manufactured by the company, and when offered for sale by it to the said dealers; and it denies the other allegations of the complaint; and it specifically denies that it sold to the Seminole Mills store in July, 1928, a bottle of Coca-Cola which contained putrid, poisonous, or unwholesome vegetable or animal matter which was unfit and unsuitable for human consumption, and it goes on to allege that it uses all reasonable care and caution as to have its bottles properly inspected so as to make it impossible for any deleterious matter to be inclosed therein.

Now, that makes the issues you are to try, and it is my duty to say to you, as it is my duty to say to every jury in this court, that you are the sole judges of the facts of the case. I am not allowed to say anything about the facts. When I have passed upon the admissibility of evidence and admitted it in the case, it then becomes a question for your determination, and I may not even intimate what force it has or anything else. That is your duty and yours alone. My duty is to charge you the law, and you must accept it as I give it to you and abide by it.

Now, the issues sharply drawn by the pleadings herein are these, and I may right here say to you that the plaintiff--any plaintiff--before he can recover in this court, must prove the material allegations of his complaint by the preponderance or the greater weight of the evidence, which does not mean of necessity the greatest number of witnesses in support of a proposition, because the jury may believe one witness as against forty . An old time illustration given in the old books which we lawyers studied, is this: You are supposed to be holding in your hand a perfectly even-balanced scale. In the pan of one side is put the evidence in support of a proposition, and in the pan on the other side that opposed to it. If the evidence evenly balances, then the plaintiff has failed to prove the material allegations of his complaint, or, if the evidence contrary to the allegations of his complaint outweigh the evidence here in support of it, then the plaintiff has failed, and is not entitled to recover; but if the evidence in support of the allegations of the complaint outweigh and bear down the other, then he has proven it. But, after all, gentlemen of the jury, the simple, plain meaning of the phrase "preponderance or greater weight of the evidence" is this; it is that part of the evidence which carries to your mind the conviction of truth.

The material allegations of the complaint are these--the material issues are these--Did the Augusta Coca-Cola Company bottle and put forth this bottle of Coca-Cola which is complained of? If it did, were they guilty of negligence in bottling it? Was the deleterious matter which it is alleged was in the bottle there through any negligence on the part of the bottling company? Now, these are the things which the plaintiff must prove by the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. He must prove that the Augusta Coca-Cola Company bottled and put on the market to be served to the public that particular bottle. He must prove beyond that, if he has proved that--he must prove in addition to it that the company was negligent in bottling it, and that this deleterious substance, whatever it may be, was in that bottle through negligence. We have a statute in this state which makes it a misdemeanor for any person dealing in drinks sold to the public to put or allow through gross negligence any of these things known as deleterious or unsound or putrid. We have a statute that makes such a thing a misdemeanor, but the general law is that one who manufactures or sells an article for public consumption, whether it be food or drink, must use due care to see that such article is fit, safe, and proper for human consumption.

Due care is that care which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise in his own business and under like circumstances. If one does not exercise that due care which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise in the circumstances, then he is guilty of negligence, but it is not every act of negligence that makes one liable. The negligence complained of must be the proximate cause of the injury complained of. That is, it must be the direct cause, the efficient cause, the thing that brought about the thing complained of. It need not necessarily be the thing immediately preceding the event. It may, indeed, originate at a point removed from the immediate event, but, if it set in motion a chain of events that led down to the thing itself, and then that chain came all of the way down and was the event, then that would be the proximate cause; but even though it set in motion a train of events originating back here, if before that train of events reached the final event something broke in on it, and that new thing became the cause of the event, then this original thing ceases to be considered, because it was broken off before it got to the final event, and therefore it could not be called the proximate cause, but the new intervening thing which set in motion this train of events would be the proximate cause. The proximate cause is the efficient cause, the direct cause, the thing that brought about the thing complained of. Now, if the plaintiff has proven negligence on the part of this corporation, he must prove that that negligence was the proximate cause of his injury.

Now, gentlemen of the jury, I think those are the questions of law which pertain to this case, and I have found it always expedient to say as little as I could to the jury upon the law, because you are not lawyers, and do not understand the technical terms in which lawyers often indulge, and I don't want to confuse you. I want to state the propositions of law which I think apply plainly, and so you can bear them in mind and apply them in the jury room.

Now the plaintiff and defendant by their counsel have asked me to charge you certain requests. It frequently confuses jurors to have the judge charge the law requested by the plaintiff, and then turn around and charge the law requested by the defendant. It seems inconsistent, but it is not. The attorneys for the plaintiff predicate their requests to charge upon their belief of the facts of the case. That is to say, if the facts are as plaintiff believes, then the plaintiff desires these requests, which are applicable; and if you find the facts to be as defendant believes, then the law he requests me to charge would apply. I do not often charge the law they like. I am the...

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4 cases
  • Lancaster v. Atlantic Greyhound Corp.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • May 31, 1941
    ... ... union. Burnette v. Augusta Coca Cola Bottling Co., ... 157 S.C. 359, 154 S.E. 645; ... ...
  • Gantt v. Columbia Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • February 20, 1940
    ... ... 785. It may be observed that ... this case was a coca-cola case. See also Culbertson v ... Coca-Cola Co., 157 S.C. 352, 154 S.E. 424; Burnette ... v. Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 157 S.C. 359, 154 ... S.E. 645; (it being noted that these two important cases and ... the Tate case are ... ...
  • Hollis v. Armour & Co.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • April 7, 1939
    ... ... are rarely found to be helpful. But see Culbertson v ... Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 157 S.C. 352, 154 S.E. 424; ... Burnette v. Coca-Cola ... ...
  • Floyd v. Florence Nehi Bottling Co.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • July 19, 1938
    ... ... point, Mr. Justice Blease quoted with approval from the case ... of Crigger v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., supra [132 ... Tenn. 545, 179 S.W. 155, L.R.A.1916B, 877, Ann.Cas.1917B, ... 572], ... v. Coca-Cola Bottling Company, 154 S.E. 424, 157 S.C ... 352, Burnette v. Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 154 ... S.E. 645, 157 S.C. 359, and Irick v. People's Baking ... ...

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