Monday, March 03, 2008

Night out on the town for Ricky Raccoon

Only in South Carolina do have opinions like the one in Singleton v. Sherer. A mild mannered raccoon comes home after a night on the town and takes a hunk out a its owner and others. Lawyers are called and pleadings filed. This opinion could only be better if a possum had done the damage. The facts are pretty straightforward:

A raccoon bit Roger Singleton while he was on George Sherer and Julie Underwood’s jointly owned property. Approximately a year before this incident, Singleton rescued the raccoon from the yard of a home where he was delivering furniture “but wanted someone else to take care of it.” Subsequently, Underwood agreed to take the raccoon. According to Singleton, he was familiar with the raccoon from the time it was removed from the wild and placed in Underwood’s care. Indeed, Singleton “would come to [Underwood’s] home from time to time and was often around the [raccoon]. He would play with the raccoon and he liked it.”

Singleton testified the raccoon was neither vicious nor dangerous and had never bitten anyone prior to the incident. The night before the incident, the raccoon escaped from his outdoor pen and reappeared the next morning in a “disheveled” state. After letting the raccoon into the house, Underwood attempted to calm the animal by picking him up and feeding him. However, when her dog entered the room, the raccoon bit Underwood’s arm severing an artery and median nerve. Underwood was taken by ambulance to the emergency room accompanied by her children.

Being afraid Ricky Raccoon would hurt her dog, Underwood calls her father, who then call Singleton for help. The father told Singleton to wait for him to arrive with nets and other equipment to subdue the creature, but Singleton entered the home alone and was attacked by the raccoon (apparently still suffering ill effects of its night on the town).

Singleton brought suit alleging that Underwood was negligent. The trial court found no negligence and also concluded that even if Underwood was negligent Singleton’s own negligence was, as a matter of law, greater than any negligence attributable to Underwood. The Court of Appeals affirmed:

The undisputed facts establish Singleton freely and voluntarily exposed himself to a known danger which he understood and appreciated. By Singleton’s own admission, his actions on the day of the incident were “pretty stupid.” Any factual issues which might exist as to Sherer and Underwood’s contributory negligence cannot alter the inescapable conclusion Singleton’s negligence exceeded fifty percent. Under South Carolina jurisprudence, where evidence of the plaintiff’s greater negligence is overwhelming, evidence of slight negligence on the part of the defendant is simply not enough for a case to go to the jury. See Hopson v. Clary, 321 S.C. 312, 314, 468 S.E.2d 305, 307 (Ct. App. 1996) (noting where the evidence as a whole is susceptible to only one reasonable inference, no jury issue is created). The trial court did not err in barring Singleton’s claim under the assumption of risk doctrine because Singleton was more than fifty percent at fault in causing his injuries.

Yep, once your client admits his own actions were "pretty stupid," summary judgment typically follows.

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