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Case of the Month
January 2005

Case Overview

Betty Tripp v. Patricia Price, David G. Price, Jeff Harris, d/b/a Harris Auto Reconditioning, Fairway Ford, Inc., and Binh Nguyen


Harris Auto Reconditioning provides detailing and reconditioning services to automobile dealerships in Greenville, including Fairway Ford. At the time of the automobile accident that is the subject of this lawsuit, David Price was the manager and shop foreman of one of Harris's facilities. Harris allowed Price to drive vehicles to and from work. However, Harris specifically instructed Price that only Price could drive the vehicles he brought home from work and that he was not to drive the vehicles for any other personal reasons without specific permission.

On Friday, February 25, 2000, Price drove a Ford Explorer, owned by Fairway Ford, but entrusted to Harris, from Harris's facility. Price used the vehicle to transport a shop vac home to perform yard work. The Explorer remained at his house that weekend until Sunday when his wife, Patricia, drove it without his permission. While driving the Explorer, Mrs. Price rear-ended Betty Tripp's car.

Ms. Tripp sued Harris in Greenville County on theories of respondeat superior,1 negligent entrustment, negligent supervision and negligent hiring. Harris asked the judge to grant him summary judgment, which means to rule in favor of Harris without letting the case go to the jury. The judge who heard the case in Greenville County granted Harris's request for summary judgment. He found that Harris was not liable for Mr. Price's conduct because Mr. Price was not acting within the course and scope of his employment or in furtherance of any business interest.

Ms. Tripp then filed an appeal in the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge that Mr. Price was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when the accident occurred. Although the Court of Appeals stated there was some question as to whether Mr. Price was negligent in failing to secure the keys to the Explorer, they found Ms. Tripp failed to argue that point in the brief she presented.

Ms. Tripp then asked the South Carolina Supreme Court, the highest Court in the State of South Carolina, to review the Court of Appeals' decision. She argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding that Mr. Price's failure to secure the keys to the Explorer was not committed in the course and scope of his employment. She also argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding she did not make the negligent entrustment argument to that court. The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed to review those issues.


1 "Respondeat superior" is a Latin phrase meaning "let the master answer." Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the master is responsible for the acts of his servant even when the servant acts against the express instructions of the master, provided he is acting within the scope of his employment. South Carolina Ins. Co. v. James C. Greene & Co., 290 S.C. 171, 348 S.E.2d 617 (Ct.App.1986). The doctrine of respondeat superior makes a master liable to a third party for injuries caused by the acts of his servant committed within the scope of the servant's employment. Id. When a master-servant relationship exists, the acts of the servant are imputed to the master by law, without any requirement of fault on the part of the master. Id. Under this doctrine, the master is liable for the acts of his servant even when the servant acts against the express instructions of his master, so long as the servant acts to further the master's business. Id.


Case Briefs

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Petitioner's Brief (504 kb)

Respondent's Brief (1.4 mb)

 


Oral Arguments

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