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South Carolina
Judicial Department
2011-UP-074 - Williams v. Leake


In The Court of Appeals

Hattie Bryson Williams and Larry Williams, Appellants,


Thelma Marie Leake, Lucille Leake, Toyota of Greenville, Southeastern Toyota Distributors, LLC, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., Defendants,

of whom Toyota of Greenville, Southeastern Toyota Distributors, LLC, and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., are Respondents.

Appeal From Greenville County
Charles B. Simmons, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No.  2011-UP-074
Submitted December 12, 2010 – Filed February 23, 2011


Fletcher N. Smith, Jr., of Greenville, for Appellants.

Shawn Boyd Deery, of Columbia, and Kevin Lindsay Terrell, of Greenville, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM: In this personal injury action arising from a motor vehicle accident, Hattie Bryson Williams and Larry Williams (Mr. and Mrs. Williams) appeal the grant of summary judgment to Toyota of Greenville, Southeast Toyota Distributors, and Toyota Motor Sales (collectively, "the Toyota  defendants").  Mr. and Mrs. Williams alleged the Toyota defendants were negligent.  We affirm.[1]

The sole allegation against the Toyota defendants was that the Toyota defendants were negligent for selling and warranting that the airbag in a vehicle purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Williams from the Toyota defendants would discharge on impact.  Several years after Mr. and Mrs. Williams purchased the car, it was involved in two collisions, first with another vehicle and immediately thereafter with a tree; however, the airbag did not discharge either time, and Mrs. Williams, who was driving the car, was injured. 

In granting summary judgment to the Toyota defendants, the trial judge held Mr. and Mrs. Williams were unable to prove any of the elements necessary for establishing liability in a products liability action.  Specifically, the trial judge held that the mere fact that the airbag did not discharge during upon impact during either collision was insufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case that the vehicle was defective.  We affirm pursuant to Rule 220(b)(1), SCACR, and the following authorities: 

1.  As to whether a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding a defect in the airbag:  See  Marchant v. Mitchell Distrib. Co., 270 S.C. 29, 36, 240 S.E.2d 511, 514 (1977) (stating the fact that an injury occurred and the fact that the allegedly defective product could have been more safe are not sufficient to support a finding that the product in question was unreasonably dangerous); Campbell v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 256 S.C. 230, 234, 182 S.E.2d 73, 75 (1971) (holding the mere fact that a tire tube exploded "does not demonstrate the manufacturer's negligence nor tend to establish that the tube was defective") (emphasis added); Bragg v. Hi-Ranger, Inc., 319 S.C. 531, 543, 462 S.E.2d 321, 328 (Ct. App. 1995) (stating that to prevail in a products liability action under a strict liability theory, "the plaintiff must establish that: (1) the defendant's product was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous for its intended use; (2) the defect existed when the product left the defendant's control; and (3) the defect was the proximate cause of the injury sustained"); id. ("[T]he mere fact that a product malfunctions does not demonstrate the manufacturer's negligence nor does it establish that the product was defective.") (emphasis added); Dema v. Shore Enters., 312 S.C. 529, 530, 435 S.E.2d 875, 876 (Ct. App. 1993) (stating a plaintiff must establish the same three elements in a products liability action "regardless of whether the theory under which he seeks to recover is strict liability, breach of warranty, or negligence"); Byrd Motor Lines v. Dunlop Tire and Rubber Corp., 304 S.E.2d 773, 780 (N.C. Ct. App. 1983) (affirming the grant of summary judgment for the defendant in a products liability claim arising in South Carolina and holding that because (1) the allegedly defective product could not be produced, (2) there was no expert testimony or other evidence that it was defective, and (3) there was no examination of the product  by one who could make a meaningful evaluation, the plaintiff failed to make a legally sufficient showing of a defective condition or unreasonable danger under South Carolina law).

2.  Because we have affirmed the trial judge's ruling that Mr. and Mrs. Williams failed as a matter of law to establish that their vehicle was defective, we need not reach their argument regarding causation.  See Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (ruling an appellate court need not review remaining issues when its determination of a prior issue is dispositive of the appeal); Bragg, 319 S.C. at 543, 462 S.E.2d at 328 (noting proximate cause as only one of the elements of a strict liability claim); Madden v. Cox, 284 S.C. 574, 579-80, 328 S.E.2d 108, 112 (Ct. App. 1985) (noting proof of causation is an element of a products liability action based on negligence).



[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.