|Case of the Month|
Ted Corbett, Petitioner, v. Jordan William Weaver, a minor over the age of fourteen (14) years, and Michael Joel Weaver, Defendants, of whom Michael Joel Weaver is the Respondent.
Following an automobile accident, petitioner filed a negligence action against Jordan William Weaver and Michael Joel Weaver, Jordan’s father. The trial judge denied petitioner’s motion for a directed verdict as to Mr. Weaver’s liability under the family purpose doctrine,1 and the jury found in favor of Mr. Weaver. Petitioner moved for a new trial, which was denied.
Thereafter, petitioner filed an appeal in the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding conflicting evidence from which two reasonable inferences regarding the ownership of the Jeep could be drawn. The court found the fact that the automobile was titled in Mr. Weaver’s name was not conclusive evidence that he owned the automobile because title alone is not dispositive of ownership. The court also found there was evidence the automobile was not provided by Mr. Weaver for the general use and convenience of the family but rather, was given as a gift to Jordan. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s submission of the issue to the jury. Corbett v. Weaver, 380 S.C. 288, 669 S.E.2d 615 (Ct. App. 2008).
Petitioner has now filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the South Carolina Supreme Court seeking review the Court of Appeals’ opinion. Petitioner argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding the trial judge properly submitted the applicability of the family purpose doctrine to the jury. Petitioner contends the issue of ownership was not a question of fact because the ownership of the automobile was admitted by Mr. Weaver. Petitioner further maintains Rule 8(d), SCRCP, precludes consideration of any evidence that Jordan was the owner of the automobile. Moreover, petitioner argues Mr. Weaver is judicially barred from taking a position contrary to those set forth in the pleadings and testimony. Petitioner contends he was prejudiced by Mr. Weaver’s change in position because had he known ownership would be put in issue he “might” have called relative witnesses.
Petitioner also submits the trial judge misapprehended the testimony in the record. Petitioner notes Mr. Weaver testified he was Jordan’s father, Jordan lived in his home, he owned the automobile involved in the accident, and the automobile was for the use of his family. Petitioner maintains this uncontradicted testimony conflicts with the court’s finding that there was evidence the automobile was not provided for the general use and convenience of the family. Accordingly, petitioner asserts the trial court’s denial of his directed verdict motion and motion for a new trial is wholly unsupported by the evidence.
Finally, petitioner contends the court erred in finding conflicting evidence that the automobile was given to Jordan as a gift. Specifically, petitioner argues the record is devoid of any evidence of a total relinquishment of control of the automobile.
Mr. Weaver argues the testimony that the automobile was given as a gift to Jordan created an inference that Jordan controlled the use of the automobile. Mr. Weaver maintains petitioner’s remaining arguments are not properly before this Court for review because they were not raised to or ruled on by the trial judge. Finally, Mr. Weaver asserts the petition for a writ of certiorari violates Rule 242, SCACR.
The South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2009.
For the family purpose doctrine to apply, the moving party must prove: (1) the defendant is the head of the household; (2) the defendant owns, furnishes, and maintains a vehicle; (3) for the general use, pleasure and convenience of the family; (4) the family member has general authority to operate the vehicle for those purposes; and (5) the family member was negligent in the use of the vehicle. Evans v. Stewart, 370 S.C. 522, 636 S.E.2d 632 (Ct. App. 2006).
View Oral Arguments
(38:40 minutes playing time)