Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SC Supreme Court holds that plaintiff may bring negligent hiring and supervision claim even after the employer admits vicarious liability

In James v. Kelly Trucking Co., the Supreme Court considered whether a plaintiff in South Carolina is precluded, as a general matter, from maintaining a cause of action for negligent hiring, training, supervision, or entrustment after an employer stipulates that it is vicariously liable for its employee’s negligence. The court held that the plaintiff would not be precluded:

Primarily, we think the argument that an independent cause of action against an employer must be precluded to protect the jury from considering prejudicial evidence presumes too much. Our court system relies on the trial court to determine when relevant evidence is inadmissible because its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury. Rule 403, SCRE. Similarly, we rely on the trial court to craft instructions describing what a jury may or may not infer from a particular piece of evidence, and we grant the trial court discretion to give such instructions to the jury at the time such evidence is introduced, when charging the jury at the close of the case, or at any proper time in between. In our view, the argument that the court must entirely preclude a cause of action to protect the jury from considering prejudicial evidence gives impermissibly short-shrift to the trial court’s ability to judge the admission of evidence and to protect the integrity of trial, and to the jury’s ability to follow the trial court’s instructions.

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