Young v. Tide Craft, Inc.

Decision Date09 March 1978
Docket NumberNo. 20633,20633
Citation270 S.C. 453,242 S.E.2d 671,1 A.L.R.4th 394
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
Parties, 1 A.L.R.4th 394 Blanche C. YOUNG, Executrix of the Estate of Novel Young, Respondent, v. TIDE CRAFT, INC., Dan Bell, d/b/a Bell's Winter Park, and Henry H. Hegel, d/b/a Berkeley Marine Center, of which Tide Craft, Inc. is Appellant.

Buist, Moore, Smythe & McGee, Charleston, for appellant.

Solomon, Kahn, Roberts & Smith, Charleston, for respondent.

Ronald L. Motley, Barnwell, and Leonard L. Long, Jr., Charleston, for S. C. Trial Lawyers Ass'n, for amicus curiae.

RHODES, Justice:

Actions for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering, arising out of a fatal boating accident on Lake Moultrie in Berkeley County, resulted in jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiff-respondent (Young) against the defendant-appellant (Tide Craft). Tide Craft appeals. We reverse.


The tragic mishap which is the subject of these actions occurred on March 30, 1972 shortly after the respondent's husband, Novel Young, had launched his boat. According to the only testifying eyewitness, Young, who was alone in the boat, had just passed him and was proceeding on a straight course at approximately 30-35 miles per hour. The witness testified that he had glanced down to check his fuel gauge and when he looked up Young's boat was circling and Young could not be seen. Upon drawing closer to Young's boat, he observed that Young was hanging off the side of the boat with his head submerged in the water, one of his feet tangled in the lines of the trolling motor, and one of his hands grasping the rail which runs along the side of the boat. Before Young could be rescued he had drowned.

The boat in question was a flat bottomed, sixteen foot, 1972 "Deluxe Bayou" bass boat manufactured by Tide Craft, Inc. of Minden, Louisiana. The boat had been purchased by Young in December of 1971 from Danny Bell's Winter Park in Eutaw Springs, S. C. When the boat was shipped to Bell, it contained two swivel seats, one located near the bow and the other near the stern. The boat was also equipped with a "pop-up stick" steering system, which had been patented by Tide Craft. The "pop-up stick" steering system differs from the conventional systems in that a "stick" or lever attached to a large pulley wheel is substituted for the conventional steering wheel and is mounted on the side of the boat to the left of the forward seat. Controls for the engine are mounted on the side of the boat to the right of this seat. This arrangement enables the bass fisherman to operate the boat from the forward seat and has the advantage of allowing him to fish from the forward seat without the interference of a steering wheel. The swivel seats allow him to fish in any direction.

As patented, the remainder of the steering system was to consist of what is commonly referred to in the boating industry as a "cable pulley" system. This system consists simply of 3/16 inch plastic-covered steel cable which, on the type of boat in question, was threaded through the stick steering pulley wheel, led aft through a series of pulleys attached to the side of the boat, and connected with the engine through a series of springs, pulleys and other hardware.

On Tide Craft's 1972 model boat, the cable pulley system was only partially installed at the factory. Installation of the system on the boat purchased by Young was completed by Bell at the time the boat was fitted with the outboard motor Young had selected. Prior to the 1972 model, Tide Craft had completely installed the steering system, including cable and pulleys, leaving the dealer only to connect the cable with the motor. Due to complaints from dealers that complete installation was creating problems when it came time to connect the system to the various sizes and makes of motors available, Tide Craft only partially installed the steering system on its 1972 model boats.

After his purchase of the boat in December 1971, Young used the boat for several months without any problems in the steering system. Then in the latter part of February 1972 he began to experience difficulty in manipulating the steering stick. On February 25th, he took the boat for repairs to Henry R. Hegel, the owner and operator of Berkeley Marine Center in Moncks Corner. Hegel determined that the problem with the steering was that the cable had slipped off of a pulley because of slack in the steering system, and was resting between the pulley and pulley housing. As a result of friction, the plastic sheathing on the cable had become frayed making it increasingly difficult to move the steering stick. Since Hegel did not have sufficient cable to rewire the system, he made temporary repairs which consisted of stripping away the frayed portion of the plastic sheathing, resetting the cable in the pulley, and adjusting the tension to take the excess slack out of the system. He advised Young that the system would have to be rewired since, without the plastic coating, the exposed portion of the steel cable would eventually corrode from exposure to the weather. However, Hegel told him it was perfectly safe to use the boat as it was until it could be rewired.

On March 9th, Young returned to Berkeley Marine Center and left the boat with Hegel to have the boat rewired. The boat was to be ready on the 14th and Young returned on that date. However, Hegel told Young he had mistakenly given him the wrong pickup date and the boat would not be ready until the following day. At this time Hegel still did not have sufficient cable to rewire the system and the possibility of splicing in a portion of new cable to replace the frayed portion was discussed. According to Hegel, Young wanted to use the boat for the approaching weekend and, if he were to have use of the boat, the only alternatives were to splice the cable or return the boat to Danny Bell for his attention. In any event, splicing was discussed and the decision to splice was made. Accordingly, at Hegel's instruction, his mechanic spliced ten feet of cable into the steering system by means of tiller clamps. When Young picked up the boat on the 16th, Hegel, by his own admission, considered it "operable" but "dangerous" and the repairs "temporary". The testimony reveals it was common knowledge in the boating industry that splicing is a dangerous practice. Young used the boat that weekend without incident. The following weekend he met his death.

The only reasonable inference from the evidence is that the cause of the boat going into its sudden, sharp turn was a complete loss of steering which resulted from disengagement of the steering cable from one of the tiller clamps installed by Hegel's mechanic. The clamp had been fitted over both the steel core and plastic sheathing of the cable. As a result, considerable stress was placed upon the plastic sheathing. Consequently, the plastic gave and the cable pulled free of the clamp.

In 1975 the respondent instituted a wrongful death action and a survival action for conscious pain and suffering. The suits were combined for trial. Joined as defendants in each of the two actions were Tide Craft; Danny Bell, d/b/a Bell's Winter Park; and Henry H. Hegel, d/b/a Berkeley Marine Center. Both actions were based on alternative theories of negligence, breach of implied warranty, and strict liability in tort, all of which were submitted to the jury. The jury, in the action for conscious pain and suffering, returned a verdict against Tide Craft in the amount of $30,000 actual damages. In the wrongful death action, a verdict was returned against Tide Craft in the amount of $160,000 actual damages and $10,000 punitive damages. Bell and Hegel were absolved of liability.


There are two separate and distinct aspects of claimed liability in this case. The respondent first contends that Tide Craft is chargeable with the splicing and resulting disengagement of the steering cable from the tiller clamp and is, thus, liable for the damages alleged. Second, respondent contends that, even if Tide Craft cannot be charged with the splicing of the steering cable, Tide Craft is, nevertheless, liable because certain alleged defects of the boat which became operative after the cable parted, were contributing proximate causes of Young's death.

Proximate cause is an essential element common to all three theories of recovery advanced by the respondent in this case. Prosser, Law of Torts, § 103, pp. 671-2 (4th Ed. 1971) (common elements); Royal v. Black & Decker Manufacturing Co., 205 So.2d 307 (Fla.App.1968) (common denominators); and Williams v. Brasea, Inc., 497 F.2d 67 (5th Cir. 1974) cert. den. 423 U.S. 906, 96 S.Ct. 207, 46 L.Ed.2d 136 (1975) (elements of strict liability in tort). With regard to the first aspect of this case, we conclude that Tide Craft cannot be held liable since the intervening acts of Hegel constitute, as a matter of law, the sole proximate cause of the disengagement of the steering cable. As to the second aspect, with one exception to be hereinafter disposed of on other grounds, we conclude that the respondent has failed to establish proximate cause.


Under the first aspect of respondent's case the following are alleged to constitute defects and/or lack of due care on the part of Tide Craft: (1) improper design of and inherent difficulties with the pop-up steering system; (2) allowing installation of the steering system by dealers, and/or not furnishing instructions on proper installation; and (3) failure to warn against improper methods of repair in the event of difficulties with the system. The respondent asserts that the actions of Hegel were foreseeable and that the alleged defects and/or lack of due care on the part of Tide Craft were proximate causes of the injuries complained of.

A reading of any of the host of decisions in this State clearly discloses that the touchstone of proximate cause in South Carolina is foreseeability. "Foreseeability of some injury from an act or...

To continue reading

Request your trial
94 cases
  • Vinson v. Hartley
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • October 14, 1996 South Carolina is foreseeability. Koester v. Carolina Rental Ctr., Inc., 313 S.C. 490, 443 S.E.2d 392 (1994); Young v. Tide Craft, Inc., 270 S.C. 453, 242 S.E.2d 671 (1978). Foreseeability is determined by looking to the natural and probable consequences of the act complained of. Koester......
  • Branham v. Ford Motor Co., 26860
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • August 16, 2010
    ...Gary T. Schwartz, Foreword: Understanding Products Liability, 67 Cal. L. Rev. 435, 468 (1979). 10.E.g., Young v. Tide Craft, Inc., 270 S.C. 453, 471, 242 S.E.2d 671, 680 (1978) (quoting from comment i. to express the consumer expectations test); see also Jerry J. Philips, Consumer Expectati......
  • Mellen v. Lane
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • March 11, 2008
    ...of proximate cause in South Carolina is foreseeability." Koester, 313 S.C. at 493, 443 S.E.2d at 394 (citing Young v. Tide Craft, 270 S.C. 453, 462, 242 S.E.2d 671, 675 (1978)); Small, 329 S.C. at 463, 494 S.E.2d at 842. "Foreseeability is determined by looking to the natural and probable c......
  • Branham v. Ford Motor Co.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • November 17, 2010
    ...Gary T. Schwartz, Foreword: Understanding Products Liability, 67 Cal.L.Rev. 435, 468 (1979). 10 E.g., Young v. Tide Craft, Inc., 270 S.C. 453, 471, 242 S.E.2d 671, 680 (1978) (quoting from comment i. to express the consumer expectations test); see also Jerry J. Philips, Consumer Expectation......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT