A Guide to South Carolina Medical Malpractice Claims

All you need to know about medical negligence lawsuits—from the elements to prove to the statute of limitations

Medical malpractice lawsuits are more complex than most other types of personal injury claims. Learn how to establish fault and file a medical malpractice lawsuit in the Palmetto State.

If you undergo surgery in South Carolina to have your infected right index finger amputated and the doctor accidentally amputates your left thumb, there's a pretty good chance you can recover damages by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

But not all malpractice claims are so straightforward.

Let's take a look at medical malpractice claims in South Carolina, including the elements you need to prove to recover damages and the steps you need to take before you can even file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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What is medical malpractice?

The term "medical malpractice" is defined by the South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-79-110(6) as follows:

"Medical malpractice means doing that which the reasonably prudent health care provider or health care institution would not do or not doing that which the reasonably prudent health care provider or health care institution would do in the same or similar circumstances."

To put it more simply, the term "medical malpractice" refers to a situation in which a licensed healthcare professional's negligent act or omission causes an injury to a patient.

Examples of acts or omissions that commonly result in medical malpractice lawsuits include:

  • Failure to diagnose an illness
  • Misdiagnosis of an illness
  • Prescribing improper medication or dosage
  • Failure to warn a patient of known risks
  • Failure to follow proper medical procedure
  • Unnecessary surgery or surgery performed on the wrong site
Real-life example: Jodie Roberts was admitted to Prisma Health Richland Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina to deliver her baby. Within 6 hours of admission, her blood pressure spiked and Jodie began to complain that she couldn't breathe.

Unbeknownst to her, Jodie was suffering from preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that is highly treatable if healthcare providers recognize it early and act quickly.

In Jodie's case, her healthcare providers failed to identify her preeclampsia and Jodie went into cardiac arrest. Jodie didn't breathe for roughly 20 minutes and, as a result, she is nearly brain dead and unable to move, speak, or recognize her newborn baby.

Jodie's family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of Jodie. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that:

"Jodie's injuries were the direct and proximate result of multiple occurrences of gross negligence, including the hospital's decision to continue to induce labor even as her vital signs showed she was in extreme danger and distress."
Prisma Health Richland Hospital ultimately settled the lawsuit for $2.1 million.

Elements to prove in a South Carolina medical malpractice lawsuit

To prove medical malpractice in South Carolina, you need to establish the following elements:

  • The healthcare professional failed to exercise the degree of care and skill expected of an average, competent practitioner acting in the same or similar circumstances, and
  • Such failure was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.

In South Carolina medical malpractice actions, expert testimony is required to establish that the healthcare professional failed to act competently and that the failure was the cause of the patient's injury, unless the subject matter of the lawsuit falls within a layman's common knowledge or experience.

Real-life example: Joe King suffered a swollen foot after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. The following day, Joe went to Loris Community Hospital in Loris, South Carolina, where he was examined and treated by Dr. Eston Williams.

Based upon his reading of the X-rays, Dr. Williams diagnosed and treated the injury as a severe ankle sprain. He expected the pain and swelling to subside in 1 month. Joe was released and allowed to walk on the injured foot using a walking cast.

When the cast was removed a month later, the foot was swollen and blue. Dr. Williams considered this condition to be normal and continued the same treatment. Over the next 9 months, the foot did not improve. Nevertheless, Dr. Williams did not change the treatment plan.

Believing something to be wrong, Joe went to an orthopedic specialist in Myrtle Beach. The specialist immediately diagnosed a fracture-dislocation of the foot, and corrective surgery was quickly performed.

At trial, Dr. Harry Rein testified on Joe's behalf that:

  • The injury to Joe's foot was a common injury treated similarly by all physicians throughout the country, and
  • Dr. Williams failed to meet the standard of care in his diagnosis and treatment of Joe's foot (e.g., failed to order proper X-rays or diagnose the injury, failed to consult other physicians, and failed to refer Joe to a specialist).
Ultimately, the jury found that Dr. Williams committed malpractice and awarded Joe $40,000 in damages.

Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in South Carolina

The steps you need to take to file a medical malpractice lawsuit are similar to the steps you need to take to file any other South Carolina personal injury lawsuit—with 2 significant exceptions:

  1. Notice of intent to file suit. Before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must provide all of the healthcare professionals you intend to sue with a "notice of intent to file suit." The notice must identify all the healthcare providers being sued and briefly state your basis for filing the lawsuit.

    Within 90 days from the service of this notice, the parties must participate in a mediation conference unless an extension is granted by the court.
  2. Expert affidavit. Before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must file with the court an expert affidavit. The affidavit must be prepared by a medical expert witness and must state the expert's belief that the defendant committed at least 1 medically negligent action (or inaction).

South Carolina medical malpractice statute of limitations

South Carolina limits the amount of time you have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This time constraint is called the statute of limitations.

Under the South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-3-545, you have 3 years from the date of the negligent act or from the date you reasonably should have discovered that you were injured by the negligent act to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Enjuris tip: Because it's not always easy to determine the deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, it's a good idea to meet with an attorney as soon as possible once you suspect you have a legitimate claim.

South Carolina also has a 6-year statute of repose, meaning that in no circumstance can you file a lawsuit more than 6 years after the negligent act.

To make things more complicated, South Carolina has a different statute of limitations for cases in which a "foreign object" (such as a medical instrument) is left in the body after surgery. In those cases, the lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date the foreign object is discovered and the 6-year statute of repose doesn't apply.

What damages can be recovered in a South Carolina medical malpractice lawsuit?

If you file a medical malpractice lawsuit in South Carolina, you may be able to recover the following types of damages:

  • Economic damages are the monetary losses caused by your injury (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, etc.).
  • Non-economic damages are the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.).
  • Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available if the defendant's actions were willful or reckless.
Facing facts: A 2019 report found that the average cost of medical malpractice claims in the United States increased by almost 50% since 2009. According to the report, the average paid claim went from about $400,000 in 2009 to $600,000 in 2019.

Unfortunately, South Carolina caps the amount of non-economic damages you can recover in a medical malpractice case. Specifically, non-economic damages are capped at $350,000 per defendant and can't exceed $1.05 million for all defendants.

South Carolina good Samaritan laws

Have you ever declined to help someone experiencing a medical emergency based on a concern that you might be sued if something goes wrong?

Worried that potential good Samaritans are too scared of being sued to help others, South Carolina passed a good Samaritan law. South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-1-310 says that any person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency will NOT be held liable for any accidental damages that result so long as the actions didn't amount to gross negligence.

Need legal advice? A South Carolina medical malpractice lawyer can help you navigate your claim and receive compensation for your losses as you get on the road to recovery.
Still not finding what you need?
Check out our other articles on medical malpractice in South Carolina.

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