Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Elledge v. Richland/Lexington School District Five case brief

Elledge v. Richland/Lexington School District Five case summary
534 S.E.2d 289 (S.C. App. 2001)
Tort Law

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Plaintiff sought review of a judgment in the Richland County Circuit Court (South Carolina), which, in a negligence action for injuries sustained by her daughter in a fall from school playground equipment, returned a verdict for the school district, arguing the trial judge erred in excluding evidence of playground industry standards and in charging the jury.

FACTS: -The trial court precluded plaintiff's evidence of the Consumer Products Safety Commission's (CPSC) guidelines and the American Society for Testing and Materials' (ASTM) standards for playground safety based on the mistaken belief that defendant school district had to have adopted those national protocols before such evidence was admissible.
-Implementation of national industry standards was not necessary prior to their admission in a negligence case.
-While such proof might be necessary in attempting to establish negligence per se, it was not required when the evidence was offered to demonstrate an applicable standard of care.
-Plaintiff proffered video deposition testimony from an expert concerning industry standards as outlined in the CPSC and ASTM.
-Moreover, plaintiff intended to offer evidence that defendant had notice of those standards, and that they were fully enforced regarding defendant's purchases of new playground equipment.
-The exclusion of this testimony was clearly prejudicial since such evidence would tend to show defendant's compliance with industry standards, which directly conflicted with defendant's assertion that such standards had not been recognized.

Evidence of industry standards, customs, and practices is often highly probative when defining a standard of care. Safety standards promulgated by government or industry organizations in particular are relevant to the standard of care for negligence.
-Evidence of custom within a particular industry, group, or organization is admissible as bearing on the standard of care in determining negligence.
-A safety code ordinarily represents a consensus of opinion carrying the approval of a significant segment of an industry, and is not introduced as substantive law but most often as illustrative evidence of safety practices or rules generally prevailing in the industry that provides support for expert testimony concerning the proper standard of care.

CONCLUSION: The judgment of the lower court in favor of defendant was reversed and remanded because the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to admit relevant evidence of industry standards.

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