United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on defendant Brewco Inc.'s
(“Brewco”) motion for summary judgment as to all
of plaintiff Jeffrey Smith's (“Smith”)
claims. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants in
part and denies in part Brewco's summary judgment motion.
litigation arises out of a workplace accident on a large,
industrial multi-head trim saw (“trim saw”) that
occurred on March 16, 2013 at a facility owned and operated
by North American Container (“NAC”). Brewco is a
company engaged in the business of manufacturing industrial
saws for saw mills and wood fabrication facilities and
manufactured the trim saw at issue in this case. The trim saw
was used to cut lengths of lumber from which to construct
pallets. Smith was an employee of NAC when this accident
occurred, and worked in a position as a
“catcher/stacker.” Brewco delivered the trim saw
to NAC's facility in Rowesville, South Caroline in 2012.
NAC installed the trim saw.
March 16, 2013, Smith was stacking wood that came out of the
trim saw when he observed that a piece of wood had become
jammed inside of the blades of the trim saw. He walked around
to the input side of the trim saw and reached into the blade
to pull out the piece of jammed wood. Once Smith removed the
wood jammed in the blades, the trim saw restarted its
rotation and Smith's fingers got caught in the trim saw
blades, severely injuring two fingers on his right hand. As a
result of this accident, Smith alleges that he has sustained
severe and permanent injury, incurred medical expenses, lost
income and will incur future medical costs.
filed this suit against Brewco alleging three products
liability causes of action: negligence, strict liability, and
breach of warranty. On November 20, 2017, Brewco filed a
motion for summary judgment, to which Smith responded on
January 3, 2018. Brewco replied on January 17, 2018. The
court held a hearing on March 6, 2018. The motion has been
fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure requires that the district court enter
judgment against a party who, ‘after adequate time for
discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.'” Stone v. Liberty
Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997)
(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986)). Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor
of the nonmoving party. See Webster v. U.S. Dep't of
Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to
defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify an
error of law or a genuine issue of disputed material fact.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); see also
Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d
514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003).
the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of
the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more
than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building
of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at
252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. Rather, “a party
opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . .
. must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat, 346
F.3d at 522 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (2002) (amended
2010)). If the adverse party fails to provide evidence
establishing that the factfinder could reasonably decide in
his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered
“regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary
requirements imposed by the substantive law.'”
Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
brings this products liability case against Brewco on a
number of theories, including negligence, strict liability,
and warranty. The court first addresses Brewco's
overarching arguments that Smith has failed to establish that
the trim saw was the proximate cause of his injury and then
moves on to discuss the remaining claim in this case, the
design defect claim.
Brewco's Overarching Arguments
makes a number of arguments that attack the sufficiency of
Smith's products liability action as a whole. The court
addresses each of these arguments before moving on to assess
the contours of each of Smith's theories of defects in
this products liability action. Specifically, Brewco contends
that: (1) Smith's own failure to follow the proper
lockout/tag out procedures was the proximate cause of his
injury as opposed to the trim saw; (2) NAC's defective
training of Smith on the proper lockout/tag out procedures
was the proximate cause of Smith's injury; and (3) the
trim saw was materially altered after Brewco delivered it to
NAC so Smith is barred from recovery.
plaintiff must establish three elements for a products
liability case based on the theory of strict liability: (1)
he was injured by the product; (2) the injury occurred
because the product was in a defective condition,
unreasonably dangerous to the user; and (3) the product, at
the time of the accident, was in essentially the same
condition as when it left the hands of the defendant.
Bragg v. Hi-Ranger, Inc., 462 S.E.2d 321 (S.C. Ct.
App. 1995). While under any products liability theory the
plaintiff must show that a product defect was a proximate
cause of his injuries, “proximate cause does not mean
the sole cause” and a “defendant's conduct
can be a proximate cause if it was at least one of