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Madison v. Babcock Ctr., Inc., 371 S.C. 123 (S.C. 2006)

Appellant was a mentally retarded girl, who had been placed under a guardianship after a finding that she lacked capacity to exercise good judgment with regard to her person, assets and financial affairs. While at a private facility, Appellant had sex with two men. Initially she reported that she was raped, but later reported she was talked into having sex. She contracted herpes simplex type I from one of the men that had sex with her. The trial court granted summary judgment to the facility and Plaintiff appealed. Issue on appeal was “whether a private treatment center owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in supervising a mentally retarded person admitted to its care; the novel issue of whether a state agency which has a contract with the center owes a duty of care to the person; and whether the mentally retarded person in this case, as a matter of law, proximately caused her own injuries.” On appeal the court found the facility had a duty to exercise reasonable care in supervising and providing care and treatment for clients in its custody. Although there is no general duty to control the conduct of another person or to warn of danger, exceptions to that rule exist. Citing Faile v. S.C. Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 566 S.E.2d 536 (S.C. 2002), those exceptions are: “(1) where the defendant has a special relationship to the victim; (2) where the defendant has a special relationship to the injurer; (3) where the defendant voluntarily undertakes a duty; (4) where the defendant negligently or intentionally creates the risk; and (5) where a statute imposes a duty on the defendant.” The court found that this case falls within the first, third, fourth and fifth exceptions, as well as circumstances outlined in Restatement (Second) of Torts ยงยง 323-324. The court held that a private person or business entity that accepts responsibility for providing care, treatment or services to a mentally retarded or disabled client has a duty to exercise reasonable care in supervising the client and in providing appropriate care and treatment. Further, if Appellant proves at trial that she has limited emotional and intellectual capacity, then she should be treated as equivalent to a willful, immature child and others charged with a duty of care and caution must calculate this and take precautions accordingly. The court also found that the State had a common law duty to Appellant, but declined to reach whether the State had a statutory duty to Appellant. The court ruled that Appellant was not required to prove that Defendants’ actions were the sole cause of injury; instead, they must prove that Defendants’ negligence was at least one cause, which was a jury question. Summary judgment was reversed.

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