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2004-UP-432 - Charron v. Horton Homes, Inc.

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Robert H. Charron, d/b/a Liberty Ministries,        Respondent,

v.

Horton Homes, Inc.,        Appellant.


Appeal From Oconee County
Alexander S. Macaulay, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-432
Submitted May 12, 2004 – July 15, 2004


AFFIRMED


Kurt M. Rozelsky and Jennifer S. Barr, both of Greenville, for Appellant.

W. Grady Jordan, and Robert T. Usry, both of Easley, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Robert H. Charron sued Horton Homes, Inc. to recover damages for defects in a mobile home.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of Charron on his breach of warranty claims.  Horton appeals the trial court’s denial of his motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial.  We affirm. [1]

FACTS

Charron purchased a mobile home manufactured by Horton from Discount Housing Center.  Horton’s one-year limited warranty on the home stated “each part of the manufactured home shall be free under normal use and service from defects in material and workmanship for a period of one (1) year after the initial delivery[.]”  The warranty required Charron to promptly report any defects to Discount Housing or Horton’s service department to receive repairs.  Under the terms of the contract, Discount Housing was responsible for handling and coordinating repairs. 

Charron immediately experienced problems with the mobile home.  The large sections of the home were misaligned by almost an inch and a half.  Water leaked into the structure, shingles fell off, within a few months the foundation skirting collapsed, and the walls were bowed.  Charron notified Discount Housing and Horton of the structural problems.  Both companies repeatedly sent repairmen to fix the defects, but the attempts at repair were unsatisfactory and serious structural problems remained uncorrected.

Charron brought this action for breach of warranties, negligence, and violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act. [2]   At trial, the jury awarded Charron $27,500 on his breach of warranty claim.  The trial court denied Horton’s post-trial motions. 

SCOPE OF REVIEW

Upon appellate review of an action at law tried by a jury, the jury’s findings of fact will not be disturbed unless the reviewing tribunal determines that no evidence in the record supports the jury’s conclusion.  Townes Assocs., Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 85, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976).  “Furthermore, in deciding motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the evidence and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  If more than one inference can be drawn from the evidence, the case must be submitted to the jury.”  Bishop Logging Co. v. John Deere Indus. Equip.  Co., 317 S.C. 520, 526, 455 S.E.2d 183, 186-87 (Ct. App. 1995). 

DISCUSSION

I.  Breach of Warranties Claim

Horton contends the trial court erred in submitting Charron’s claim for breach of warranties to the jury, arguing Charron failed to comply with the notice requirement of the express warranty, all implied warranties were conspicuously disclaimed and, in any event, Charron failed to prove breach of any implied warranties.  We disagree.

Horton claims Charron failed to comply with the notice requirement of the sales contract’s express warranty, arguing he did not give Horton prompt notice of defects and an opportunity to cure.  Whether Charron gave Horton reasonable notice and an opportunity to cure is a question of fact properly reserved for the jury.  Draffin v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 252 S.C. 348, 353, 166 S.E.2d 305, 308 (1969). 

Under the express warranty provision, “[i]n order to obtain performance of any obligations under the foregoing warranty the purchaser shall . . . [p]romptly report any defects in materials or workmanship to [Discount Housing], or to the service department of Horton Homes, Inc.”  Charron testified he informed Discount Housing “from day one” sections of the mobile home were misaligned.  After Discount’s repairmen failed to cure the structural defects, Charron contacted Horton repeatedly by telephone and in writing requesting further repairs.  In one of his letters, Charron included a list of the numerous defects with the home.  Horton acknowledged it sent several repairmen out to the mobile home in response to Charron’s requests.  Contrary to Horton’s assertions, the record reveals Charron was in regular communication with Discount Housing and Horton requesting repair service for numerous defects in the home. 

Horton further claims it was denied the opportunity to cure the alleged defects, citing a single instance when Charron refused a service call from a Horton repairman.  The refusal occurred after months of repeated and unsuccessful service calls.  Charron explained he declined the repairman’s request to attempt repairs for two reasons.  First, the repairman called on a Sunday evening and wanted to come then or the following day, which was Labor Day, neither of which was acceptable to Charron.  Secondly, Charron had been assured by Horton that factory employees would perform any required repair work, and the repairman who called on this occasion advised Charron that he was an independent contractor.  A month later, Charron again allowed Horton to send a repairman to his property.  Repairmen from Discount Housing and Horton made multiple trips to Charron’s home both before and after the refusal. 

The record contains evidence of Charron’s request for repairs and Horton’s admission it dispatched repairmen to the home to repair defects.  This evidence is sufficient to create a jury question as to whether the express warranty’s notice requirement was met and, if so, whether there were adequate opportunities to cure any defects.  Accordingly, we find the trial court properly submitted these questions of fact on the issue of breach of express warranty to the jury. [3]  

II.  Competent Evidence of Damages

Horton contends the circuit court erred in finding Charron presented competent evidence of damages for his breach of warranty claims.  We disagree. 

The trial court denied Horton’s motions for a directed verdict based on the assertion Charron failed to prove damages on his breach of warranty claims.  A trial court’s grant or denial of a directed verdict can only be reversed when there is no evidence to support the ruling below.  Creech v. South Carolina Wildlife & Marine Res. Dep’t, 328 S.C. 24, 28-29, 491 S.E.2d 571, 573 (1997). 

A.  Measure of Damages

Charron presented no evidence of the fair market value of the mobile home at the time he accepted it for delivery.  Therefore, Horton asserts he failed to present sufficient proof of damages as required by the Uniform Commercial Code.  The applicable section of the U.C.C. measures a buyer’s damages for breach as “the difference at the time and place of acceptance between the value of the goods accepted and the value they would have had if they had been as warranted . . . .”  South Carolina Code Ann. § 36-2-714(2) (2003). 

Although Charron did not present evidence of the home’s value at the time of delivery, the $44,280 purchase price is prima facie evidence of its warranted value, and his expert witness testified partial repair costs for defects would be approximately $60,000.  Long v. Quality Mobile Home Brokers, Inc., 271 S.C. 482, 484, 248 S.E.2d 311, 312-313 (1978) (stating a good’s purchase price is prima facie evidence of its warranted value).  A competent estimate of the cost of repairs is sufficient to create a factual question for the jury regarding damages.  Scott v. Fort Roofing & Sheet Metal Works, Inc., 299 S.C. 449, 451, 385 S.E.2d 826, 827 (1989).  The record contains written estimates of the repair costs supported by expert testimony.  Accordingly, there is ample evidence of damages to sustain the trial judge’s denial of a directed verdict in favor of Horton.

B.  Qualification of Expert Witness

Finally, Horton asserts Charron’s expert witness was not qualified to testify about repair methods or costs for mobile homes.  We disagree.

Charron’s expert witness was a civil engineer licensed in three states and actively engaged in structural engineering projects.  He personally designed support systems for buildings, including mobile home roof trusses, and had previous work experience in a mobile home manufacturing plant.  He also had considerable experience making cost estimations for construction projects.  His specialized work experience in structural engineering and cost estimation clearly made him more qualified than the jury to give his opinion on the cost and extent of repairs required. 

The qualification of an expert witness and the admissibility of his testimony rest within the sound discretion of the trial court.  Mizell v. Glover, 351 S.C. 392, 406, 570 S.E.2d 176, 183 (2002).  We will not disturb the court’s decision to exclude or admit expert testimony absent a clear abuse of discretion.  Id.  “For a court to find a witness competent to testify as an expert, the witness must be better qualified than the jury to form an opinion on the particular subject of the testimony.”  Id. (citing Gooding v. St. Francis Xavier Hosp., 326 S.C. 248, 252-253, 487 S.E.2d 596, 598 (1997)).  Accordingly, we find the trial court did not err in qualifying Charron’s witness as an expert, and his testimony was properly admitted.

AFFIRMED.

HEARN, C.J., STILWELL, J., and CURETON, A.J., concur. 


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

[2]        Charron agreed not to pursue his cause of action under the UTPA in exchange for Horton’s decision to abandon its motion challenging the court’s jurisdiction. 

[3]        In light of our determination that Charron’s claim for breach of an express warranty was properly before the jury, the jury’s general verdict stands.  Because the jury’s award could be predicated on Horton’s breach of the express warranty alone, we need not address Horton’s questions regarding disclaimer or breach of implied warranties.