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July 23, 1957


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Legge, Justice.

July 23, 1957.

In a tort action for personal injuries, the defendant failed to plead to the complaint within the twenty-day period prescribed by Section 10-641 of the 1952 Code. He was adjudged in default, and the matter was referred to the Master, who, having taken testimony, filed his report recommending judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $25,000.00 actual damages. Thereafter, plaintiff's counsel having declined to accept service of a proffered answer, the defendant moved for permission to answer, upon the ground that his default had been occasioned by mistake and excusable neglect; and the plaintiff moved for an order confirming the Master's report. Both motions were argued before the Honorable J. Woodrow Lewis, Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit; and by his order dated January 26, 1957, he refused the defendant's motion and confirmed the Master's report so far as it concerned the issue of the defendant's liability, but held that an award of $20,000.00 for actual damages would be adequate and proper, and ordered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in that amount. From that order the defendant now appeals upon the following exceptions:

"1. The Circuit Court erred in mistaking the grounds of appellant's motion.

"2. The Circuit Court abused its discretion in refusing to permit appellant to answer respondent's complaint.

"3. The Circuit Court erred in granting judgment to respondent.

"4. The Circuit Court erred in granting judgment to respondent for twenty thousand ($20,000.00) dollars actual damages."

Exceptions 1 and 3 are too general and indefinite for consideration. Supreme Court Rule 4, Section 6; Rodgers v. Herron, 226 S.C. 317, 85 S.E.2d 104, 48 A.L.R.2d 1241.

Exception 4 raises no reviewable issue. At most it charges, by implication, that the amount of the judgment was excessive, which is insufficient to invoke the appellate jurisdiction. Nelson v. Charleston & W.C.R. Co., 226 S.C. 516, 86 S.E.2d 56. Moreover, the issue thus sought to be raised here was not raised in the lower court, and therefore cannot be considered now. Simonds v. Simonds, 229 S.C. 376, 93 S.E.2d 107; Grant v. Clinkscales, 230 S.C. 416, 95 S.E.2d 854; Surfside Development Corp. v. Reynolds & Manley Lbr. Co., S.C. 99 S.E.2d 49.

There remains for consideration the contention that the refusal by the Circuit Judge to open the default and permit appellant to answer the complaint was an abuse of judicial discretion. The facts pertinent to that issue, apparent from the record, are as follows:

This action, based upon alleged negligence of the personal defendant's employee in the operation, on a public highway, on December 2, 1955, of a tobacco harvester (also joined as defendant), was commenced on September 20, 1956, by service of the summons, together with verified complaint. The defendant promptly turned these papers over to his liability insurance carrier, whose agent delivered them to its local counsel, Mr. Bridges, at Florence, S.C. on September 24, 1956, stating that they had been served upon the defendant on September 20 or 21. Mr. Bridges, who had not theretofore been informed of the accident referred to in the complaint, promptly by telephone advised his client, the insurance company, of the pending action, and requested information with regard to its investigation of the accident. On September 28, 1956, he received from the company photostatic copies of pertinent parts of the investigation, including a copy of a statement made by the operator of the tobacco harvester shortly after the accident. This statement was to the effect that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff (a fourteen-year-old colored boy) had resulted from his being thrown by a fractious horse, and were not the result of any negligence on the part of the harvester operator.

At the time of the receipt of this investigation file, Mr. Bridges was engaged in a trial in the Court of Common Pleas for Florence County. From this point we quote from his affidavit upon which the motion for leave to answer was predicated:

"Accordingly, and according to deponent's best information, knowledge and belief, deponent thereupon placed a call to counsel for the plaintiff (whose office was in Hartsville, S.C. we interpolate), this fact being evidenced by a memorandum in the handwriting of the deponent in deponent's file dated September 28, 1956. That it now appears that such call was not completed, but due to the pressure of the trial of causes on September 28 and 29 and the beginning of four consecutive days of hearings before the Industrial Commission at Conway and Georgetown, South Carolina, by the deponent, the deponent upon the completion of such days through mistake construed his memorandum to have been a memorandum of a completed call and the granting of an extension in which to file an answer to plaintiff's complaint. Whether the call was completed or not is not known to deponent, but the completion of such call has been denied by plaintiff's counsel, and the records of telephone calls made from deponent's office fail to indicate a completed call, and deponent therefore accepts that such call was not completed.

"That due to the mistake made on the part of the deponent, answer was not prepared and transmitted to plaintiff's counsel until October 30, 1956, some thirty-nine (39) days after the service of plaintiff's complaint.

"That the failure of the defendants to answer the complaint of plaintiff within the time specified in plaintiff's summons was solely the result of a mistake on ...

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