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Solanki v. Wal-Mart Store #2806

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 20, 2014

Prakash and Urmila Solanki, Respondents,
v.
Wal-Mart Store #2806, and Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, Defendants, of whom Wal-Mart Store #2806 is the Appellant Appellate Case No. 2012-213247

Heard: March 5, 2014.

Page 616

Appeal From Spartanburg County. The Honorable Frank R. Addy, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

Regina Hollins Lewis and Mary Daniel LaFave, both of Gaffney Lewis & Edwards, LLC, of Columbia, for Appellant.

John David Hawkins and Charles Logan Rollins, II, both of The Hawkins Law Firm, of Spartanburg, for Respondents.

KONDUROS, J. LOCKEMY, J., concurs. WILLIAMS, J: I respectfully dissent.

OPINION

Page 617

[410 S.C. 233] KONDUROS, J.:

Wal-Mart Store #2806 (Wal-Mart) appeals the trial court's award of punitive damages to Prakash and Urmila Solanki (collectively, the Solankis) in an action for gross negligence. It also appeals the trial court's denial of its post-trial motions for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV) and for the reversal or reduction of punitive damages. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 27, 2009, " Black Friday," the Solankis went shopping at the Wal-Mart in Boiling Springs, South Carolina. After they selected their items, Mr. Solanki went to the self-checkout line; however, he experienced a problem with the register. Ryan Smalls, a Wal-Mart employee, attempted to help Mr. Solanki. When Smalls could not get the self-checkout machine to operate correctly, Smalls took Mr. Solanki to a cashier-assisted register. There were also problems with that [410 S.C. 234] register. During the transaction, Mr. Solanki handed Smalls his debit card and identification. Smalls manually stenciled Mr. Solanki's debit card, which he used as a credit card because Mr. Solanki could not remember his pin number. However, the credit card information of Robin Martin was hand keyed into the register during this transaction. A receipt with Martin's credit card information was signed by Mr. Solanki and $144.70 was charged to her account. The Solankis left the store unaware of the mistake.

On December 1, 2009, Martin notified the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office her credit card had been stolen and two unauthorized charges were on her account, including Mr. Solanki's purchase at Wal-Mart. Deputy Gina Cashion was assigned to the case. She requested Wal-Mart provide her with the video surveillance and receipts for the date and time of the unauthorized charges. Wal-Mart found one transaction for that date in the amount of $144.70. It provided Deputy Cashion with video surveillance of the transaction, a copy of the stenciled impression of Mr. Solanki's debit card, the itemized receipt, and the store's copy of the receipt showing Martin's credit card information with Mr. Solanki's signature.

Deputy Cashion tried to contact Mr. Solanki but was unsuccessful. Based on the information at her disposal, she obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Solanki. He was arrested in Georgia in April 2010 and spent six nights in jail before he was transported to South Carolina where he posted bail. He was indicted on financial transaction card theft and financial transaction card fraud, but the indictments were dismissed on August 24, 2010.

Mr. and Mrs. Solanki filed a complaint against Wal-Mart and the Sheriff's Office for (1) negligence, (2) gross negligence and recklessness, (3) false imprisonment, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (5) defamation and defamation per se, (6) assault, (7) battery, (8) malicious prosecution, and (9) loss of consortium.[1] The trial court directed a verdict for Wal-Mart on all causes of action except negligence and gross [410 S.C. 235] negligence. The jury returned a verdict against Wal-Mart for negligence. They awarded Mr. Solanki $50,000 in actual damages and $225,000 in punitive damages against Wal-Mart. They also found Mr. Solanki was comparatively negligent in the amount of 25%. Wal-Mart filed post-trial motions for JNOV, new trial nisi remittitur, reversal or reduction of punitive damages, or new trial pursuant to the Thirteenth Juror Doctrine. The trial court denied all of Wal-Mart's motions. This appeal followed.

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Punitive Damages

Wal-Mart asserts the Solankis presented insufficient ...


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