Wilson v. Duke Power Co., 21051

Citation273 S.C. 610,258 S.E.2d 101
Decision Date06 September 1979
Docket NumberNo. 21051,21051
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesWoodrow Thomas WILSON, Respondent, v. DUKE POWER COMPANY and Milton M. Byars, Jr., Appellants.

Andrew B. Marion and Donald A. Harper, of Haynsworth, Perry, Bryant, Marion & Johnstone, Greenville, for appellant Duke Power Co.

David L. Freeman and Carl F. Muller, of Wyche, Burgess, Freeman & Parham, Greenville, for appellant Byars.

Eugene C. Covington, Jr. of Foster, Covington & Patrick, Greenville, for respondent.


The plaintiff, Woodrow Thomas Wilson, brought this action to recover for personal injuries suffered from burns when he came in contact with, or in close proximity to, an electrical wire and fell 17 feet from a building under construction onto a concrete floor. Defendants in the action are Milton M. Byars, Jr., owner of the building under construction, and Duke Power Company which operated a transmission power line which passed over the edge of the building. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $20,000 actual damages against both defendants jointly and, in addition, $5,000 punitive damages against each. Both defendants have appealed.

The facts giving rise to the cause of action are as follows:

Byars owned approximately 20 acres of land some three or four miles from Greenwood. In preparation to the building of a warehouse-type structure, he poured a concrete floor base 100 feet square. The concrete base encroached upon the right-of-way of Duke Power Company, such that the building when completed would be under Duke's high voltage (44,000 volts) transmission lines, which were suspended from wooden poles at a height of about 22 feet. In December, 1975, the concrete pad came to the attention of Duke's employees, who approached Byars and told him that because of the voltage a building could not be safely built under the line as it was then located. James M. Creech, Duke's superintendent of transmission line maintenance, testified as follows concerning his discussion with Byars:

"Q. Do you recall whether or not any conversation regarding legal action came up at that particular meeting?

"A. Yes, sir. In the course of the conversation several proposals were made by Mr. Byars as to how he could use this concrete pad. He was concerned about the cost of it.

"Q. All right, sir.

"A. How much money was involved. And at one point during our conversation Mr. Byars made the statement to me: 'What would you do if I went ahead and built the building?'

"Q. And what if anything did you tell him?

"A. My answer to him was that I would get an injunction and stop him.

"Q. Did he say anything in response?

"A. No, sir. It was kind of a snicker and we went on to other subjects about how you might use the thing, it was passed on over.

"Q. All right. Did you have an understanding from your meeting with Mr. Byars whether or not he was going to build the building under the wires as you see it right here?

"A. My understanding of our meeting was that nothing else would be done, that the portion of the building next to the line would not be completed in any case. That was the portion we were most concerned about."

Thereafter, Byars completed one-half of the building, most distant from the power lines. Duke was aware of this and took no further action. In April, 1976, it became necessary to complete the entire building in order that Byars could collect the proceeds of a loan. Byars decided that the remainder of the building would be completed, and Huskey Construction Company contracted to do the work. On Wednesday, April 14, 1976, Huskey proceeded to complete the structural framework. On Monday, April 19, 1976, the steelwork for the structure had been completed. Huskey brought a crew, including plaintiff Wilson, from Greenville to install the roof. Wilson had been with Huskey for about a month and had worked on two other buildings. He was a 20 year-old helper, who had completed the 11th grade. While Wilson was on the building, he either came in contact with a high voltage wire, or came within such close proximity that the current arced to his body, causing him to suffer burns and fall from the building.

Both Duke and Byars submit to this court that a verdict should have been directed in their favor. In addition, Byars submits that he is insulated from liability under the Workmen's Compensation Law, § 42-1-400, Code of Laws of South Carolina (1976), as Wilson's statutory employer. Errors are also alleged in the handling of evidentiary matters.

We treat first the contentions of Byars that the evidence does not warrant the inference that he was guilty of negligence, or recklessness, proximately causing injuries to the plaintiff Wilson.

There was ample evidence to support the jury's finding that Byars was negligent and reckless. It is not disputed that Wilson was, as a business invitee, entitled to at least a warning of any unsafe conditions of which the landowner knew or should have known, and of which the invitee was, reasonably, not aware. Bolen v. Strange, 192 S.C. 284, 6 S.E.2d 466 (1939); See Honea v. West Va. Pulp & Paper Co., 380 F.2d 704 (4th Cir. 1967) (applying S.C. law); See Hughes v. Children's Clinic, P.A., 269 S.C. 389, 237 S.E.2d 753 (1977). There is evidence that Byars knew the wire was so dangerous that he should not permit workers under it. There is evidence that Byars revealed the danger neither when he told Huskey to build the building, nor when asked by a worker why only half of the building had been put up at first.

Recklessness may be inferred from conduct so grossly negligent that a person of ordinary reason and prudence would then...

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15 cases
  • Sims v. Giles
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • 29 Enero 2001
    ...the trial court's ruling the danger was open and obvious, that ruling was the law of the case. Likewise, in Wilson v. Duke Power Co., 273 S.C. 610, 258 S.E.2d 101 (1979), our Supreme Court classified a construction worker as an invitee. Wilson was injured while installing a roof on a buildi......
  • Matthews v. E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co.
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    ...Inc., 744 F.2d 1378, 1379 (4th Cir. 1984) (citing Boseman v. Pacific Mills, 8 S.E.2d 878, 193 S.C. 479 (1940); Wilson v. Duke Power Co., 258 S.E.2d 101, 273 S.C. 610 (1979)) (emphasis added); see also Singleton v. J.P. Stevens & Co., Inc., 726 F.2d 1011 (4th Cir. 1984) (citing to Boseman to......
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    ...1500 workers which was too large for the capabilities of the company was not a part of its trade or business); 4 Wilson v. Duke Power Co., 273 S.C. 610, 258 S.E.2d 101 (1979) (notwithstanding the fact that an owner of a building had abandoned his stock brokerage business to develop his prop......
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    ...effectively eliminated appellant's defense to respondent's claim that he had been contributorily negligent. See Wilson v. Duke Power Co., 273 S.C. 610, 258 S.E.2d 101 (1979) (contributory negligence not available as a defense when defendant was ...
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