Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. In a federal lawsuit, Carus was named as a defendant. Carus’s products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems.
The town of Lexington (town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, John Machin, a town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the town’s wastewater stations. He suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease.
As a result of his injuries, he filed a workers’ compensation claim and was allowed workers’ compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that plaintiff’s employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the “empty chair” defense against a plaintiff’s employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer’s legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the state’s workers’ compensation commission?; and (4) when a plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form?