Carla Denise Garrison and Clint Garrison, Appellants/Respondents,
Target Corporation, Respondent/Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2017-000267
May 15, 2019
From Anderson County R. Keith Kelly, Circuit Court Judge.
Thomas Hawkins and Helena LeeAnn Jedziniak, both of Hawkins
& Jedziniak, LLC, of Greenville; and G. Todd Butler, of
Phelps Dunbar LLP, of Jackson, Mississippi, all for
F. Powell, III and George P. Sibley, III, both of Hunton
& Williams LLP, of Richmond, Virginia; and Knox L.
Haynsworth, III, of Brown, Massey, Evans, McLeod &
Haynsworth, LLC, of Greenville, all for Respondent/Appellant.
negligence action, Appellants/Respondents, Carla Denise
Garrison and Clint Garrison (the Garrisons), challenge the
circuit court's order setting aside the jury's $4.5
million punitive damages award, arguing (1) there was
sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that
the conduct of Respondent/Appellant Target Corporation
(Target) was reckless, willful, or wanton; (2) the verdict
was not excessive; and (3) Target waived the application of
the punitive damages caps set forth in section 15-32-530(A)
of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2019). The Garrisons also
challenge the circuit court's pre-judgment interest
award, arguing the circuit court erred by calculating the
interest on compensatory damages only. Target appeals the
circuit court's denial of its motion for a judgment
notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability, arguing
there was insufficient evidence of Target's constructive
knowledge of a dangerous condition on its premises. Target
also appeals the denial of its motion for a new trial
absolute, arguing the punitive damages award reflected the
jury's passion, caprice, and prejudice. We affirm in
part, reverse in part, and remand for a remittitur of the
jury's punitive damages award.
21, 2014, Appellant/Respondent Carla Denise Garrison (Denise)
and her eight-year-old daughter (Daughter) visited the Target
store in Anderson. After parking her car, Denise retrieved
her coupon book and placed it on the hood of the car to
examine it. As she was examining the coupon book, Denise
heard Daughter ask, "Mommy, what is this?" Denise
turned her attention to Daughter and saw her holding a
syringe with a needle in it. Denise "immediately
reacted" by swatting the syringe out of Daughter's
hand, exclaiming, "Don't ever pick anything like
that up, that's dirty, that's nasty." When
Denise swatted the syringe, the needle punctured her right
palm, and she noticed a bead of blood emerge from the
went inside the store to wash her hands several times and
called her husband, Appellant/Respondent Clint Garrison
(Clint). Clint advised Denise to report the incident, so
Denise spoke to the store manager, Shelby Brintnall, and they
both took photographs of the syringe lying in the parking
lot. Brintnall took possession of the syringe and completed a
"Guest Incident Report" form, recounting the
incident as Denise had relayed it to her. In response to
the form's question, "Was the floor/ground clean and
dry," Brintnall checked the "No" box.
Brintnall also advised Denise to get medical treatment and
give the bill to her. After Denise left the store, Brintnall
completed a second report that was entitled "LOD
Investigation Report." In this report, Brintnall
indicated that she did not see a needle in the syringe.
next day, Denise visited the local hospital emergency room,
where a nurse referred Denise to an infectious disease
specialist, Dr. Potts,  at AnMed Health Specialty Clinic. The
clinic collected a blood sample to have it tested for HIV and
hepatitis, and Dr. Potts prescribed several medications
targeted at preventing HIV and hepatitis. The medications
caused Denise to feel dizzy and lose her balance. They also
upset her stomach, put her into a "zombie-like
state," and caused her to have night terrors. Clint
testified that Denise was bedridden during this time. Clint
had to take unpaid leave from work to care for Denise, and
Clint's mother had to help care for the Garrisons'
four children. Further, Denise had to have her blood tested
every three months for approximately one year.
after Denise started taking the medications, an investigator
for Target telephoned Denise and asked her if she thought
Target was responsible for her injury. She told the
investigator that Target was "supposed to take care of
the parking lot" but she was asking only that Target pay
her medical bills. Denise eventually filed an action against
Target seeking damages for negligence and violation of the
South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act. Subsequently,
Denise submitted to Target a $12, 000 offer of judgment, but
Target did not accept the offer. Denise and Clint later filed
a second action against Target, asserting causes of action
for negligence and loss of consortium. The circuit court
consolidated the two actions and conducted a trial on
September 5 through 8, 2016.
trial, Brintnall testified that Target's Anderson store
did not have a formal policy for regular "safety
sweeps" of the parking lot but there were measures in
place to keep the parking lot in order. She stated that the
store had cart attendants who retrieved carts from the
parking lot and simultaneously checked for debris and picked
it up. The attendants also advised the team lead-on-duty of
anything they saw that "need[ed] to be noted."
However, Brintnall admitted that management did not
"have a set time" for the cart attendants to
perform these tasks; rather, they did them "every so
often." Brintnall added that the store's Property
Maintenance Technician, Jonathan Jackson, "walk[ed] the
building" in the mornings.
parties also introduced testimony regarding Target's loss
of the syringe and the Garrisons' loss of photographs of
the syringe. Brintnall explained that after she took
possession of the syringe, she thought that a co-worker
disposed of it but later learned that it was still at the
store. Subsequently, an employee of the Garrisons'
counsel took photographs of the syringe with her cell phone,
but those photographs could not be produced for trial.
Brintnall then lost track of the syringe once again, and its
location at the time of trial was a "great
mystery." Moreover, Clint was unable to retrieve from
his own cell phone photographs purportedly showing the needle
in the syringe. In light of all of this testimony, the
circuit court gave a jury instruction on the doctrine of
conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for
Denise that included $100, 000 in compensatory damages and
$4.5 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Clint
$3, 500 for lost wages and $5, 000 for loss of consortium.
The circuit court granted Target's motion for a JNOV as
to punitive damages but denied Target's remaining
post-trial motions. The circuit court granted the
Garrisons' motion for costs, pre-judgment interest, and
post-judgment interest but calculated pre-judgment interest
on compensatory damages only. These cross-appeals followed.
there sufficient evidence of Target's constructive
knowledge of a dangerous condition on its premises to allow
the issue of Target's liability to go to the jury?
there sufficient evidence of Target's recklessness,
willfulness, or wantonness to support the jury's punitive
the amount of the punitive damages award violate due process?
Target waive the application of the punitive damages caps in
the punitive damages award reflect the jury's passion,
caprice, and prejudice such that a new trial absolute was
the circuit court err by calculating pre-judgment interest on
compensatory damages only?
ruling on a JNOV motion, the trial court is required to view
the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can be drawn
therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party." Williams Carpet Contractors, Inc. v.
Skelly, 400 S.C. 320, 325, 734 S.E.2d 177, 180 (Ct. App.
2012). "This court must follow the same standard."
Id. "If more than one reasonable inference can
be drawn or if the inferences to be drawn from the evidence
are in doubt, the case should be submitted to the jury."
Id. (quoting Chaney v. Burgess, 246 S.C.
261, 266, 143 S.E.2d 521, 523 (1965)).
considering a JNOV, the trial judge is concerned with the
existence of evidence, not its weight." Curcio v.
Caterpillar, Inc., 355 S.C. 316, 320, 585 S.E.2d 272,
274 (2003). "When considering a JNOV, 'neither [an
appellate] court, nor the trial court has authority to decide
credibility issues or to resolve conflicts in the testimony
or the evidence.'" Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting Reiland v. Southland Equip. Serv.,
Inc., 330 S.C. 617, 634, 500 S.E.2d 145, 154 (Ct. App.
1998)). "The jury's verdict must be upheld unless no
evidence reasonably supports the jury's findings."
appellate court must review de novo a circuit court's
post-trial "due process review" of a punitive
damages award. Mitchell, Jr. v. Fortis Ins. Co., 385
S.C. 570, 583, 686 S.E.2d 176, 183 (2009).
a verdict is so grossly excessive and shockingly
disproportionate that it indicates the jury was motivated by
passion, caprice, prejudice, or other consideration not
founded on the evidence[, ] then it is the duty of the trial
court and the appellate court to set aside the verdict
absolutely." Caldwell v. K-Mart Corp., 306 S.C.
27, 33, 410 S.E.2d 21, 25 (Ct. App. 1991). Nonetheless,
"the jury's determination of damages is entitled to
substantial deference[, ]" and the circuit court's
decision on whether to grant a new trial based on the amount
of the verdict "will not be disturbed on appeal unless
it clearly appears the exercise of discretion was controlled
by a manifest error of law." Welch v. Epstein,
342 S.C. 279, 303, 536 S.E.2d 408, 420 (Ct. App. 2000). An
exception to this rule is that an appellate court must review
de novo a circuit court's post-trial "due process
review" of a punitive damages award. Mitchell,
385 S.C. at 583, 686 S.E.2d at 183.
maintains the circuit court erred by denying its JNOV motion
as to liability because there was insufficient evidence of
its constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on its
To recover damages for injuries caused by a dangerous or
defective condition on a storekeeper's premises, the
plaintiff must show either (1) that the injury was caused by
a specific act of the defendant [that] created the dangerous
condition; or (2) that the defendant had actual or
constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and failed
to remedy it.
Wintersteen v. Food Lion, Inc. (Wintersteen II), 344
S.C. 32, 35, 542 S.E.2d 728, 729 (2001). "Constructive
notice is a legal inference, which substitutes for actual
notice." Major v. City of Hartsville, 410 S.C.
1, 3, 763 S.E.2d 348, 350 (2014). "The defendant will be
charged with constructive notice whenever it appears that the
condition has existed for such length of time prior to the
injury that, under existing circumstances, he should have
discovered and remedied it in the exercise of due care . . .
." Anderson v. Winn-Dixie Greenville, Inc., 257
S.C. 75, 77, 184 S.E.2d 77 (1971). Target admits that this
"temporal element does not require the plaintiff to
precisely measure the lifespan of the hazard."
denying Target's motion, the circuit court stated
[A]lthough there was no direct evidence as to the exact
length of time the syringe had been in the parking lot,
witnesses testified the syringe was "dingy, dirty and
gross," and bore a "weathered" look
similar to other items of trash in the parking lot. That
testimony, when viewed in the light most favorable to
Plaintiffs, leads to the reasonable inference that the
syringe was in Target's parking lot long enough to impute
constructive knowledge. Thus, judgment as a matter of law is
not appropriate on the constructive knowledge issue.
viewed in the light most favorable to the Garrisons, there
was sufficient evidence to support the circuit court's
ruling. See Curcio, 355 S.C. at 320, 585 S.E.2d at
274 ("In considering a JNOV, the trial judge is
concerned with the existence of evidence, not its
weight."); Williams Carpet, 400 S.C. at 325,
734 S.E.2d at 180 ("When ruling on a JNOV motion, the
trial court is required to view the evidence and the
inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party.");
id. ("This court must follow the same
testified that the syringe was old, dirty, and nasty and that
she "could tell [that], obviously[, ] it had been there
a long time." Further, Shelby Brintnall, the manager on
duty at the time Denise was injured, testified that she saw
the syringe and admitted that it "look[ed] like it[ had]
some wear on it." Brintnall stated that the syringe was
"dirty and dingy" and one end of it had been broken
off. She also affirmed that the photograph taken of the
syringe showed "dings" on it as well as grime.
Clint testified that from viewing the photograph of the
syringe on the ground near the site of the injury, he could
tell that the syringe had "been there awhile"
because it, along with surrounding debris, was
"weathered." Clint also testified that some
discarded twine lying near the syringe was discolored and
looked like it had been run over. Admittedly, the photographs
depict the location where the syringe landed after Denise had
swatted it away from her daughter's hands. Nonetheless,
it is unlikely that the location where the syringe landed was
any significant distance from its original location in the
argues this court should not consider the Garrisons'
testimony concerning how long the syringe had been in the
parking lot because it was speculative. However, it is
reasonable to infer from witness descriptions of the
syringe's weathered appearance that it had been lying in
the parking lot long enough for Target's employees to
have discovered it. See Williams Carpet, 400 S.C. at
325, 734 S.E.2d at 180 ("If more than one reasonable
inference can be drawn or if the inferences to be drawn from
the evidence are in doubt, the case should be submitted to
the jury." (quoting Chaney, 246 S.C. at 266,
143 S.E.2d at 523)); cf. H. L. Green Co. v. Bowen,
223 F.2d 523, 525 (4th Cir. 1955) (reversing a judgment for
the plaintiff and stating that the only evidence as to the
defendant's constructive notice of popcorn on which the
plaintiff slipped and fell was the testimony of the
plaintiff's witness that she "saw the popcorn on the
floor only a few minutes before [the plaintiff] entered the
store and fell; that the popcorn looked fresh, crisp and
white; that the popcorn appeared not to have been walked
on, seemed to have been just dropped on the floor and
that the floor around the popcorn was clean and had the
semblance of having been very recently swept"
(emphases added)); id. ("We cannot attribute
constructive notice of the presence of this popcorn to [the
defendant] on evidence proving merely that the popcorn had
been there a very few minutes.").
also argues that the syringe could have already been in its
weathered condition when it was first abandoned in the
parking lot. While this is possible, there is no evidence
indicating this is likely. In contrast, the weathered
condition of the debris surrounding the syringe indicates it
is likely that the syringe became weathered after it was
abandoned in the lot. Therefore, this case is distinguishable
from Wintersteen v. Food Lion, Inc. (Wintersteen
I), in which two equal possibilities made the
determination of how long water had been on a grocery
store's floor nothing more than "pure
speculation." 336 S.C. 132, 136, 518 S.E.2d 828, 830
(Ct. App. 1999), aff'd, 344 S.C. 32, 542 S.E.2d
728 (2001). Further, while Target compares the
weathered condition of the syringe to the description of a
banana peel as "withered up" and "mushed
up" in Anderson,  the nature of a banana peel
inside a grocery store does not lend itself to a valid
comparison with a syringe in an outdoor parking lot.
light of the foregoing, we conclude there was sufficient
evidence of constructive notice to allow the jury to resolve
the question of Target's liability.
Punitive Damages Award
Garrisons argue the circuit court erred by setting aside the
jury's punitive damages award because (1) there was
sufficient evidence of Target's recklessness,
willfulness, or wantonness to support the award; (2) the
amount of the award was not excessive; and (3) Target waived
the application of the punitive damages caps in section
15-32-530. We will address these grounds in turn. But first,
we will explain how the circuit court structured its rulings
on these questions, given the Garrisons' assertions that
(1) the circuit court conflated evidentiary sufficiency with
constitutional excessiveness and (2) the circuit court's
judgment concerning the sufficiency of the evidence to
support the award was clouded by the amount of the award.
order addressing the parties' post-trial motions, the
circuit court stated, "[F]inding punitive damages
unconstitutional in this case, the [c]ourt finds judgment as
a matter of law is appropriate as to that aspect of the award
alone." The order then discussed the reasons for denying
a JNOV as to liability and for granting a JNOV as to the
punitive damages award. This discussion included a post-trial
review of the constitutionality of the punitive damages
award. See Austin v. Stokes-Craven Holding Corp.,
387 S.C. 22, 52, 691 S.E.2d 135, 150 (2010) ("Because
punitive damages are quasi-criminal in nature, the process of
assessing punitive damages is subject to the protections of
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the
United States Constitution." (quoting James v.
Horace Mann Ins. Co., 371 S.C. 187, 194, 638 S.E.2d 667,
670 (2006))); id. at 52, 691 S.E.2d at 151
("[A] trial judge shall review the constitutionality of
a punitive damages award by determining whether the award was
reasonable . . . ."); Mitchell, 385 S.C. at
584, 686 S.E.2d at 183 ("To the extent [a punitive
damages] award is grossly excessive, it furthers no
legitimate purpose and constitutes an arbitrary deprivation
of property." (quoting State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins.
Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 417 (2003))).
its discussion of the award's constitutionality, the
circuit court found there was no evidence that Target
"engaged in a pattern of reckless, willful, or wanton
conduct that is sufficiently reprehensible to justify the
punitive damages award." The circuit court also found
that the ratio between the punitive damages award and the
actual damages award was "in excess of 45:1." The
circuit court concluded that the award violated Target's
due process rights.
order for a plaintiff to recover punitive damages, there must
be evidence the defendant's conduct was willful, wanton,
or in reckless disregard of the plaintiff's rights."
Taylor v. Medenica, 324 S.C. 200, 221, 479 S.E.2d
35, 46 (1996). "A tort is characterized as reckless,
willful or wanton if it was committed in such a manner or
under such circumstances that a person of ordinary reason and
prudence would have been conscious of it as an invasion of
the plaintiff's rights." Id. "A conscious
failure to exercise due care constitutes willfulness."
the circuit court set aside the punitive damages award by way
of a JNOV. The nature of a JNOV, which is "merely a
renewal of [a] directed verdict motion, " requires the
circuit court to determine the existence of evidence to
support the award and not its weight. Curcio, 355
S.C. at 320, 585 S.E.2d at 274; cf. Fairchild v. S.C.
Dep't of Transp., 398 S.C. 90, 101, 727 S.E.2d 407,
413 (2012) (holding the circuit court erred in granting a
directed verdict on the issue of punitive damages and
stating, "It is not the duty of a trial court to weigh
the evidence. Viewing the evidence and its reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to [the nonmoving
party], as both the trial court and this [c]ourt are required
to do, we hold there is evidence to create a jury question as
to whether or not [the defendant] acted with recklessness,
thus requiring submission of the issue of punitive damages to
the jury"). "When considering a JNOV, 'neither
[an appellate] court, nor the trial court has authority to
decide credibility issues or to resolve conflicts in the
testimony or the evidence.'" Curcio, 355
S.C. at 320, 585 S.E.2d at 274 (alteration in original)
(quoting Reiland, 330 S.C. at 634, 500 S.E.2d at
154). "The jury's verdict must be upheld unless no
evidence reasonably supports the jury's findings."
both the circuit court and this court are "required to
view the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can be
drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to" the
Garrisons, the nonmoving parties. Williams Carpet,
400 S.C. at 325, 734 S.E.2d at 180; cf. Hollis v.
Stonington Dev., LLC, 394 S.C. 383, 393-94, 714 S.E.2d
904, 909-10 (Ct. App. 2011) ("When ruling on a directed
verdict motion as to punitive damages, 'the circuit court
must view the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can
be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. In reviewing the denial of a motion for
directed verdict . . ., the appellate court applies the same
standard as the circuit court.'" (alteration in
original) (citation omitted) (quoting Mishoe v. QHG of
Lake City, Inc., 366 S.C. 195, 200, 621 S.E.2d 363, 366
(Ct. App. 2005), cert. denied (Jan. 18, 2007)).
"If more than one reasonable inference can be drawn or
if the inferences to be drawn from the evidence are in
doubt," the verdict should be upheld. Williams
Carpet, 400 S.C. at 325, 734 S.E.2d at 180 (quoting
Chaney, 246 S.C. at 266, 143 S.E.2d at 523); cf.
Hollis, 394 S.C. at 394, 714 S.E.2d at 910 ("The
issue of punitive damages must be submitted to the jury if
more than one reasonable inference can be drawn from the
evidence as to whether the defendant's behavior was
reckless, willful, or wanton." (quoting Mishoe,
366 S.C. at 201, 621 S.E.2d at 366).
Mishoe, the plaintiff injured her left ankle and
right knee while walking across the pavement near the
emergency room exit of the defendant's hospital and
getting her left foot got caught in a hole. 366 S.C. at 199,
621 S.E.2d at 365. Although the hospital's head of
maintenance had prepared a written report concerning the
hole's existence approximately eleven months before the
plaintiff's injury,  "[t]he hospital took no action
to repair the hole or warn visitors and patients of the
hole's existence." Id. This court concluded
that this evidence was sufficient to submit the issue of the
hospital's "willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious
conduct to the jury." 366 S.C. at 202, 621 S.E.2d at
the hospital had argued that because there was no clear and
convincing evidence that its actions constituted willful,
wanton, or reckless conduct, the circuit court erred in
denying its JNOV motion. 366 S.C. at 200, 621 S.E.2d at
365. In rejecting this argument, then-Chief Judge Hearn
summarized the standard of review for a JNOV ruling on
punitive damages as follows:
On appeal from the denial of a motion for directed verdict or
JNOV, the appellate court may only reverse if there is no
evidence to support the circuit court's ruling.
Neither the circuit court nor the appellate court has the
authority to decide credibility issues or resolve conflicts
in testimony. In order to receive an award of punitive
damages, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by clear and
convincing evidence the defendant's misconduct was
willful, wanton, or with reckless disregard for the
plaintiff's rights. A conscious failure to exercise due
care constitutes willfulness. When evidence exists that
suggests a defendant is aware of a dangerous condition and
does not take action to minimize or avoid the danger,
sufficient evidence exists to create a jury issue as to
whether there is clear and convincing evidence of
willfulness. The issue of punitive damages must be
submitted to the jury if more than one reasonable inference
can be drawn from the evidence as to whether the
defendant's behavior was reckless, willful, or wanton.
366 S.C. at 200-01, 621 S.E.2d at 366 (emphases added)
the Garrisons presented evidence showing that Target's
employees were aware of the importance of inspecting and
cleaning the parking lot to keep it safe for customers and of
keeping good records of these efforts. The Garrisons also
presented evidence showing that Target's employees should
have been aware of the existence of the syringe and needle in
the parking lot. Yet, immediately after Denise reported the
injury to Target's manager, the employee assigned to the
parking lot could not be located. The Garrisons also
highlight the following evidence showing the falsity of
Target's claim that it had the parking lot cleaned on a
regular basis: Target's manager (Shelby Brintnall) and
Property Maintenance Technician (Jonathan Jackson) both
testified that a third-party vendor sent a cleaning truck to
sweep Target's parking lot once a week, on every Thursday
night. Brintnall and Jackson also testified that cart
attendants regularly checked the lot for debris. Yet, Clint
testified that he camped out in Target's parking lot on a
Thursday night, from 11:45 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.,  and no one
came to clean the lot.
belying Target's claim that it cleaned the parking lot on
a regular basis were photographs of weathered trash and
debris and the testimony of the Garrisons and Clint's
mother that they had observed "trash everywhere"
and other debris in Target's parking lot on different
occasions. The Garrisons also maintain that an inspection log
identifying both April 28, 2014, and April 29, 2014, as a
Monday "suggested to the jury" that Jackson's
testimony claiming to have conducted regular inspections was
evaluating the above-referenced evidence of Target's
failure to regularly inspect and clean its parking lot, the
circuit court was charged with determining whether the
circumstances were such that "a person of ordinary
reason and prudence would have been conscious of
[Target's conduct] as an invasion of the plaintiff's
rights." Taylor, 324 S.C. at 221, 479 S.E.2d at
46. As we previously stated, the Garrisons assert that the
circuit court conflated evidentiary sufficiency with
constitutional excessiveness. They express the concern that
the circuit court failed to articulate the standard for
evaluating a motion for a JNOV as to the award of punitive
damages because the court's judgment was clouded by the
amount of the jury's verdict. They highlight the
inconsistency between the circuit court's JNOV and its
initial denial of Target's directed verdict motion as to
punitive damages, when it found sufficient evidence to
support such an award: "[T]he [c]ourt finds that there
is at least evidence that[, ] when viewed in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party[, ] could lead to more than
one inference or at least cause an inference that is in
doubt." We agree with this initial assessment by the
circuit court. We also agree with the Garrisons'
assertion that the circuit court lost sight of this principle
after being confronted with the enormity of the jury's
punitive damages award.
on the foregoing, we reverse the circuit court's JNOV as
to the punitive damages award.
Amount of Award
finding that the ratio between the punitive damages award and
the actual damages award was in excess of 45:1, the circuit
court stated, "This ratio should not stand in . . .
light of the Campbell decision and cannot stand
under the statutory cap placed on punitive damages . . . in
[section] 15-32-530." On appeal, the Garrisons argue
that the amount of the punitive damages award was not
excessive and, therefore, should not be reduced. The
Garrisons also argue Target waived the application of the
punitive damages caps in section 15-32-530. We will address
these grounds in turn.
states possess discretion over the imposition of punitive
damages, it is well established that there are procedural and
substantive constitutional limitations on these awards."
Mitchell, 385 S.C. at 584, 686 S.E.2d at 183
(quoting Campbell, 538 U.S. at 416). In other words,
"[b]ecause punitive damages are quasi-criminal in
nature, the process of assessing punitive damages is subject
to the protections of the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."
Austin, 387 S.C. at 52, 691 S.E.2d at 150 (quoting
James, 371 S.C. at 194, 638 S.E.2d at 670). "To
the extent an award is grossly excessive, it furthers no
legitimate purpose and constitutes an arbitrary deprivation
of property." Mitchell, 385 S.C. at 584, 686
S.E.2d at 183 (quoting Campbell, 538 U.S. at 417).
To make this determination, trial courts must conduct a
post-trial review of a jury's punitive damages award:
[A] trial judge shall review the constitutionality of a
punitive damages award by determining whether the award was
reasonable under the following guideposts: (1) the degree of
reprehensibility of the defendant's misconduct; (2) the
disparity between the actual and potential harm suffered by
the plaintiff and the amount of the punitive damages award;
and (3) the difference between the punitive damages awarded
by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in
Austin, 387 S.C. at 52, 691 S.E.2d at 151 (citing
Mitchell, 385 S.C. at 587-88, 686 S.E.2d at
185-86). "[A]n appellate court reviews de
novo the trial judge's application of these
Mitchell, our supreme court examined a punitive
damages award with a ratio of 13.9 to 1, based on the
jury's $15 million punitive damages award and over $1
million in potential harm to the plaintiff, and concluded
that it was "grossly excessive." 385 S.C. at 592,
686 S.E.2d at 187. The court remitted the award to $10
million, resulting in a 9.2 to 1 ratio. Id. at
594, 686 S.E.2d at 188. We will now apply the three
Gore guideposts to the present case.
In terms of reprehensibility, [the court] should consider
whether: (1) the harm caused was physical as opposed to
economic; (2) the tortious conduct evinced an indifference to
or a reckless disregard for the health or safety of others;
(3) the target of the conduct had financial vulnerability;
(4) the conduct involved repeated actions or was an isolated
incident; and (5) the harm was the result of intentional
malice, trickery, or deceit, rather than mere accident.
Austin, 387 S.C. at 53, 691 S.E.2d at 151.
the harm to Denise was physical because the needle from the
syringe pricked her palm and drew blood, possibly exposing
her to a communicable disease and requiring her to undergo
difficult medical treatment resulting in physical and
emotional suffering for several months. The medications she
had to take made her physically ill and caused vivid
nightmares. Further, the Garrisons had financial
vulnerability because they had only Clint's modest income
to support their household and Clint lost part of that income
when he had to take time off from work to take care of
Denise. As a result, Clint had to borrow
money from his mother to pay for school lunches for the
children. Moreover, the Garrisons presented evidence showing
that Target's parking lot was littered with trash and
debris on a regular basis. Therefore, while the existence of
the syringe and needle were known to happen on just one
occasion, there is the potential for its recurrence or for
other dangerous debris to harm customers.
ratio of actual or potential harm to the punitive damages
award is 'perhaps the most commonly cited indicium of an
unreasonable or excessive punitive damages award.'"
Mitchell, 385 S.C. at ...