January 11, 2017
CERTIFICATION FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA Timothy M. Cain, United States
L. Crosby and Austin H. Crosby, both of Peters, Murdaugh,
Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, of Hampton; Bert G. Utsey,
III, of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, of
Walterboro; S. Kirkpatrick Morgan, Jr. and Charles T.
Slaughter, both of Walker & Morgan, LLC, of Lexington;
and Kathleen C. Barnes, of Barnes Law Firm, LLC, of Hampton,
all for Plaintiff.
H. Smith, Angela G. Strickland and Kevin J. Malloy, all of
Bowman & Brooke, LLP, of Columbia; David G. Owen, of Law
Center, of Columbia; John M. Thomas and Jill M. Wheaton, both
of Dykema Gossett, of Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Michael P.
Cooney, of Dykema Gossett, PLLC, of Detroit, Michigan, all
B. Smythe, Jr. and Dana W. Lang, both of Womble Carlyle
Sandridge & Rice, LLP, of Charleston, for Amicus Curiae,
The Products Liability Advisory Council, Inc..
A. Matthews, of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, PA, of Columbia;
Phil Goldberg and Victor E. Schwartz, both of Shook, Hardy
& Bacon, LLP, of Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae,
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Inc.
case concerns the applicability of comparative negligence to
strict liability and breach of warranty claims in a
crashworthiness case brought by Plaintiff Reid Harold Donze
against Defendant General Motors ("GM"). District
Judge Timothy M. Cain of the United States District Court for
the District of South Carolina certified two questions to
this Court addressing the defenses available to a
manufacturer in crashworthiness cases brought under strict
liability and breach of warranty theories. We hold the
defense of comparative negligence does not apply in
crashworthiness cases, and that South Carolina's public
policy does not bar a plaintiff, allegedly intoxicated at the
time of the accident, from bringing a crashworthiness claim
against the vehicle manufacturer.
November of 2012, Donze and his friend, Allen Brazell, were
driving around Greenville County in Donze's 1987
Chevrolet pickup truck. Although in dispute, there is
evidence-including deposition testimony from Donze himself-
indicating Brazell and Donze had been smoking synthetic
marijuana earlier that morning. While Brazell was driving,
they came to an intersection controlled by a stop sign.
Brazell failed to stop and pulled directly in front of a Ford
F-350 truck towing a horse trailer. Unable to stop, the Ford
struck Donze's truck on the driver's side, and the
truck burst into flames. Brazell died as a result of the
fire, and Donze suffered severe burns to eighty percent of
filed this crashworthiness action against GM, alleging a
defect in the truck's design-specifically, the placement
of the gas tank outside of the truck's frame-caused the
fire, and seeking damages only for his enhanced burn
injuries.GM filed a motion for summary judgment
arguing Donze should be barred from recovery pursuant to
South Carolina's public policy against driving while
impaired. In the alternative, GM asserted comparative
negligence should apply to limit Donze's recovery. Judge
Cain denied GM's motion and certified two questions to
I. Does comparative negligence in causing an accident apply
in a crashworthiness case when the plaintiff alleges claims
of strict liability and breach of warranty and is seeking
damages related only to the plaintiffs enhanced injuries?
II. Does South Carolina's public policy bar impaired
drivers from recovering damages in a crashworthiness case
when the plaintiff alleges claims of strict liability and
breach of warranty?
certified question raises a novel question of law, this Court
is free to answer the question "based on its assessment
of which answer and reasoning would best comport with the law
and public policies of the state as well as the Court's
sense of law, justice, and right." Drury Dev. Corp.
v. Found. Ins. Co., 380 S.C. 97, 101, 668 S.E.2d 798,
Comparative Negligence in Crashworthiness Cases
argues comparative negligence is inapplicable in
crashworthiness cases where the plaintiff is only seeking
recovery of the enhanced injuries caused by the alleged
defect. In particular, Donze asserts that in crashworthiness
cases, the damages from the initial collision and those
caused by the alleged design defect are divisible. In other
words, according to Donze, the enhanced injuries are a
subsequent and separate event, the sole cause of
which is the manufacturer's defective design. Therefore,
any negligence on the part of the plaintiff in ...