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Target wins reprieve in $4.5 million needle stick case


The South Carolina Supreme Court sent a $4.5 million punitive damages award against Target Corp., which arose after a customer was pricked by a needle found in a parking lot, back to a lower court for reconsideration.

Target, which had previously rejected a $12,000 settlement offer in the case, argued that South Carolina’s cap on punitive damages should apply.

In Garrison v. Target Corp., Denise Garrison visited a Target in Anderson, South Carolina, in 2014 and inadvertently pricked her hand while swatting a syringe from the hand of her eight-year-old daughter. The child had found the “weathered”-looking object in the parking lot, court papers say.

Ms. Garrison informed Target staff of the incident and said the manager indicated that Target would pay for her medical bills. An infectious disease specialist prescribed her various medications to prevent her from developing HIV or hepatitis and she underwent blood tests every three months for a year to confirm she had not been infected, court papers say.

Ms. Garrison sued Target after the retailer refused to pay her medical bills and the company subsequently declined her $12,000 offer of judgment, the ruling states.

A jury later awarded Ms. Garrison $100,000 in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages.

Although South Carolina limits punitive damages awards to the higher of three times compensatory damages or $500,000, an appeals court ruled that Target failed to plead the cap in its appeal of the award and, therefore, the cap was waived.

The state’s high court, however, ruled: “The plain language of the statute does not impose a burden on the defendant to prove the cap applies. Rather, the legislature only directs trial courts to determine which level of the cap must be applied in a particular case.”

The case was remanded to the trial court to determine whether the punitive damages award should be reduced.