Janette Buchanan and Shana Smallwood, Individually and as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of James S. Buchanan, Respondents,
The South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-000246
May 4, 2016
From Bamberg County Doyet A. Early, III, Circuit Court Judge
A. Van Dine, III, Allen Mattison Bogan, Erik Tison Norton,
and Tara C. Sullivan, all of Nelson Mullins Riley &
Scarborough, LLP, of Columbia, for Appellant.
S. Nichols, of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, LLC,
of Columbia; and Daniel W. Luginbill, of Wilson &
Luginbill, LLC, of Bamberg, for Respondents.
declaratory judgment action, the South Carolina Property and
Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association (the Association)
appeals the trial court's order granting summary judgment
in favor of Janette Buchanan and Shana Smallwood,
individually and as co-personal representatives of the estate
of James Buchanan (Respondents). On appeal, the Association
argues the trial court erred in finding the Association's
statutory offset of $376, 622 should be deducted from the
claimant's total amount of stipulated damages of $800,
000 rather than the Association's mandatory statutory
claim limit of $300, 000. We affirm.
January 7, 2008, James Buchanan was involved in a motor
vehicle accident in Bamberg, South Carolina, caused by a
vehicle driven by Eddie Best and owned by Travis Scott.
Scott's vehicle was insured for one million dollars by
AequiCap Insurance Company (AequiCap). Mr. Buchanan died at
the scene of the accident.
Buchanan, individually and as the personal representative of
Mr. Buchanan's estate, initiated a wrongful death lawsuit
in Bamberg County against Best and Scott, both of whom were
South Carolina residents. During the pendency of the wrongful
death action, a Florida court declared AequiCap insolvent. As
a result of AequiCap's insolvency, the Association
assumed management of the claims against AequiCap's South
Carolina insureds pursuant to the South Carolina Property and
Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association Act (the
Buchanan, Scott, and Best reached a settlement in the
wrongful death lawsuit, and the trial court approved the
settlement on February 24, 2014. As part of the settlement
agreement, the parties stipulated that Mrs. Buchanan
sustained $800, 000 in damages. Respondents recovered a total
of $376, 622 from workers' compensation benefits and the
April 11, 2013, Respondents filed an action against the
Association for a declaration that the Association must pay
$300, 000, the limit of its exposure under S.C. Code Ann.
§ 38-31-60 (2015). Respondents asserted the balance due
to them after offsetting their $376, 622 recovery was $423,
378, which exceeded the statutory limit. The Association
answered, claiming the credit for the $376, 622 already
received should be applied to its $300, 000 statutory cap,
which would reduce its obligation to zero. The Association
and Respondents filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
28, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on the
cross-motions. On September 9, 2014, the trial court granted
Respondents' summary judgment motion and denied the
Association's motion. In its order, the trial court found
the plain language of the Act mandated that the Association
pay Respondents $300, 000. The trial court found
Respondents' "covered claim" under the AequiCap
policy was $800, 000, to which an offset of $376, 622 would
be applied under section 38-31-100(1) of the South Carolina
Code (2015), leaving a balance of $423, 378 on the covered
claim. The trial court held the Association's obligation
to pay the balance due on the claim was then limited by the
$300, 000 cap set forth in section 38-31-60. The Association
filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court
denied. This appeal followed.
cross motions for summary judgment are filed, the parties
concede the issue before us should be decided as a matter of
law." Wiegand v. U.S. Auto. Ass'n, 391 S.C.
159, 163, 705 S.E.2d 432, 434 (2011). "Determining the
proper interpretation of a statute is a question of law, and
this Court reviews questions of law de novo."
Lambries v. Saluda Cty. Council, 409 S.C. 1, 7, 760
S.E.2d 785, 788 (2014) (quoting Town of Summerville v.
City of N. Charleston, 378 S.C. 107, 110, 662 S.E.2d 40,
41 (2008)). "In a case raising a novel issue of law
regarding the interpretation of a statute, the appellate
court is free to decide the question with no particular
deference to the lower court." Id. at 7-8, 760
S.E.2d at 788 (quoting Sloan v. S.C. Bd. of Physical
Therapy Exam'rs, 370 S.C. 452, 466, 636 S.E.2d 598,
605 (2006)). "The appellate court is free to decide the
question based on its assessment of which interpretation and
reasoning would best comport with the law and public policies
of this state and the Court's sense of law, justice, and
right." Id. at 8, 760 S.E.2d at 788 (quoting
Sloan, 380 S.C. at 467, 636 S.E.2d at