Garrison v. Target Corp.

Citation435 S.C. 566,869 S.E.2d 797
Decision Date26 January 2022
Docket NumberAppellate Case No. 2020-000523,Opinion No. 28080
Parties Carla Denise GARRISON and Clint Garrison, Petitioners-Respondents, v. TARGET CORPORATION, Respondent-Petitioner.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Joshua Thomas Hawkins and Helena LeeAnn Jedziniak, both of Hawkins & Jedziniak, LLC, of Greenville; and John B. Howell, III, of Jackson, Tullos & Rogers, PLLC, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, all for Petitioners-Respondents.

Lewis F. Powell, III and George P. Sibley, III, both of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, of Richmond, Virginia; John Carroll Moylan, III, Henry L. Parr, Jr., and Wallace K. Lightsey, all of Wyche, P.A., of Columbia; and Knox L. Haynsworth, III, of Brown, Massey, Evans, McLeod & Haynsworth, LLC, of Greenville, all for Respondent-Petitioner.

Brooks Roberts Fudenberg, of Law Offices of Brooks R. Fudenberg, LLC, and C. Steven Moskos, of C. Steven Moskos, P.A., both of Charleston, for Amici Curiae Daniel O'Shields and Roger W. Whitley.

William Grayson Lambert, of Burr & Forman, LLP, of Columbia, for Amici Curiae Chambers of Commerce and Industry Groups.


We granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review Garrison v. Target Corporation , 429 S.C. 324, 838 S.E.2d 18 (Ct. App. 2020) and determine whether the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability based on a theory of constructive notice; (2) holding the statutory cap on punitive damages pursuant to section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2020) is an affirmative defense; (3) instructing the trial court to consider on remand the potential harm caused by Target's conduct in evaluating the constitutionality of the amount of punitive damages; and (4) refusing to award interest on punitive damages under Rule 68, SCRCP. We affirm as modified in part, reverse in part, and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


On the evening of May 21, 2014, Denise Garrison went to Target in Anderson, South Carolina with her eight-year-old daughter. Upon her arrival at the store, Denise parked her car in Target's parking lot, and she and her daughter exited the vehicle. Before entering the store, however, Denise retrieved her coupon book from her car, placed it on the hood, and proceeded to examine it. Suddenly, holding what appeared to be a hypodermic needle in her hand, her daughter showed the object to Denise and asked, "Mommy, what is this?" Denise responded instinctively by swatting the syringe out of her daughter's hand.

Immediately, Denise noticed the syringe had punctured the palm of her hand, as a bead of blood started to form, and she and her daughter rushed into the store's bathroom where she washed her hands repeatedly, four or five times. Denise and her daughter both became very upset at what had just occurred, and Denise called her husband, Clint, to tell him what happened. He told her to notify a Target employee of the incident so the syringe could be removed from the parking lot. Denise informed Target's store manager, who apologized for what happened. In fact, Denise believed the manager assured her that her medical bills would be paid, testifying that the manager said "bring us the bill." The manager completed a guest incident report, detailing Denise's description of the incident and listing the cause as a needle in the parking lot. She also accompanied Denise to the parking lot to retrieve the syringe, and in her testimony, described it as "dirty and dingy" and that it looked like it had "some wear on it."

Nevertheless, the manager indicated in an investigation report that she did not see a needle in the syringe.

The next day, Denise visited the emergency room, where she was treated for a needle prick/stick. However, the ER nurse told Denise there was nothing further they could do and referred her to an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Potts. The doctor prescribed Denise several medications to prevent her from developing HIV or hepatitis

. The medications caused her to feel dizzy, lose her balance, have an upset stomach, have vivid night terrors, and put her into a "zombie-like state." Denise also had to undergo blood draws every three months for a year to confirm she had not been infected with a disease.

Soon after Denise began taking the medications, she received a phone call from Target's investigator, who asked if she thought Target was responsible for her injury. Denise told him she thought they were supposed to take care of the parking lot and that she just wanted her medical bills and lab work paid. However, despite Denise's belief that Target would cover her medical costs, Target refused to do so. Subsequently, Denise filed an action against Target seeking damages for negligence, including punitive damages. Shortly thereafter, Denise submitted to Target a $12,000 offer of judgment, which Target did not accept. Denise, along with her husband, proceeded to file a second action against Target, asserting causes of action for negligence and loss of consortium. Target moved for summary judgment on all claims, which the court denied. The case proceeded to a jury trial from September 6-8, 2016, following consolidation of the two actions.

At trial, Target's store manager testified the store did not have a formal policy regarding regular cleaning and maintenance of the parking lot but noted that cart attendants keep a lookout for dangers when they retrieve carts from the parking lot. She also testified that Target employs a property maintenance technician who walks the property in the mornings, but he only works until 2:30 p.m. In addition, the manager explained that after she took possession of the syringe on the night of the incident, she thought a co-worker had disposed of it but later learned that it was still at the store. However, the syringe became lost again and was not available at trial. Nevertheless, the parties were able to show the jury photographs of the syringe. Because of the loss of the syringe, the trial court gave a jury instruction, without objection, on the doctrine of spoliation of evidence.

Target's property maintenance technician testified regarding his "walk the vibe" inspections of the premises and submitted a two-page log demonstrating several dates on which he completed this task. However, the log contained noticeable errors, such as classifying two consecutive dates as being a Monday. Significantly, he testified that a cleaning truck comes to Target on Thursday evenings to clean the parking lot but could not recall the name of the company that Target employs for the service. He also indicated they do not keep any records confirming that a company cleans Target's premises. Instead, he walks the property to make sure that large debris has been removed and the sidewalks have been cleared. He also testified he was not aware of any video evidence capturing the incident or confirming that the parking lot is regularly cleaned and maintained.

In addition, Clint Garrison testified that on one occasion, after Denise's injury, a bolt had come loose from a shopping cart corral and had fallen onto the ground in the parking lot. On several subsequent occasions, he returned to the same location and found the bolt was still in the parking lot over four months later. At one point, he thought the entire corral was in such poor condition that it was about to fall down. He also testified to finding a spring and rod laying in the grass on the curb near the area where Denise was injured and that both objects remained there in the parking lot for at least thirteen days. Further, Clint was questioned about photographs depicting the syringe and surrounding area from the day of the incident and testified that he believed the syringe had been on the ground for more than two hours, two days, or even two weeks. He also noted a piece of twine located near the syringe was discolored and appeared to have been run over by a vehicle, and a nearby cigarette butt was weathered, leading him to believe the syringe had also been there awhile. Upon learning that Target employs a cleaning truck to sweep the parking lot on Thursday evenings, Clint decided to stay up all night on one particular Thursday to see if it was true. He arrived at Target at approximately 11:45 p.m. and stayed until 5:30 a.m. the next morning, but no cleaning truck ever came to clean the parking lot.1

At the close of the Garrisons' case, both parties moved for a directed verdict, which the court denied. Other than cross-examining the Garrisons' witnesses, Target did not put on a case-in-chief. Ultimately, the jury found Target was negligent and awarded Denise $100,000 in compensatory damages and $4.51 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Clint $3,500 for lost wages and $5,000 for loss of consortium. Following trial, Target moved for a JNOV as to liability and punitive damages, requesting in the alternative that a new trial absolute or new trial nisi remittitur be granted. Target also moved for a reduction of the punitive damages award to the statutory maximum pursuant to section 15-32-530 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2020). In addition, the Garrisons moved to tax costs and interest against Target pursuant to Rules 54 and 68, SCRCP.

Following a hearing on the parties' post-trial motions, the trial court denied Target's motion for a JNOV as to liability, granted Target's motion for a JNOV as to punitive damages, denied the Garrisons' motion to tax costs, and granted the Garrisons' motion for interest. Upon review of the Garrisons' motion for reconsideration, the trial court granted their motion to tax costs and interest in full, including the award of eight percent interest under Rule 68, SCRCP, on Denise's compensatory damages only, since the court had struck the jury's punitive damages award. Regarding Target's motion...

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