South Carolina’s Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Was Not Tolled, Despite Alleged Victim’s Mental Incapacity – Sims v. Amisub of South Carolina, Inc.

Hands on a pregnant belly

The importance of the statute of limitations – the deadline for filing a lawsuit – cannot be overemphasized. If a case is not filed in a timely fashion, there can be no recovery unless the circumstances fit into a very small number of exceptions.

In the recent case of Sims v. Amisub of South Carolina, the plaintiff was the duly appointed guardian and conservator of a ward who had allegedly been hurt as a result of the medical negligence of the defendant medical center and doctor in 2003. Unfortunately, the conservator’s suit was not filed until 2009.

Allegations in the Complaint

The medical treatment that gave rise to the conservator’s medical malpractice lawsuit occurred in 2003 when the ward was pregnant. An earlier lawsuit filed by the conservator against another doctor, who had allegedly been negligent in not diagnosing or appropriately treating the ward for preeclampsia, ended in a defense verdict in 2009.

Thereafter, the conservator filed the current lawsuit. The defendants sought summary judgment on the grounds that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations and that the conservator should be estopped from claiming that the defendants were responsible for the ward’s injuries, due to her allegations concerning the other doctor in the first suit.

The trial court dismissed the conservator’s suit on the grounds of estoppel. The  court of appeals affirmed but modified the dismissal, holding that the conservator’s suit should have been dismissed on the grounds of the statute of limitations rather than estoppel.

On Appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court

The state’s high court issued a writ of certiorari to review the intermediate appellate court’s determination of the issues. Upon consideration, the court affirmed, noting that the parties agreed that there was a three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in South Carolina under South Carolina Code § 15-3-545(A) but that they disagreed as to whether (and, if so, to what extent) this limitations period could be tolled by South Carolina Code § 15-3-40 pertaining to persons under a disability.

According to the court, the clear language of § 15-3-545 foreclosed the conservator’s argument that § 15-3-40 effectively created an eight-year statute of limitations for legally insane medical malpractice victims. Instead, the statute provided for tolling only in cases of persons under the age of majority, not for those laboring under a mental disability.

While the court was sympathetic to the conservator’s argument concerning equitable fairness, it stated that such issues were to be left to the legislature, not the courts.

To Speak to an Experienced South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawyer

As this case demonstrates, a failure to file a case in a timely fashion is usually fatal to what might otherwise be a valid claim for damages caused by medical negligence. If you or a family member has suffered because of a medical mistake, do not delay in seeking counsel about your case. To schedule an appointment with an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice attorney, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie today at 864-582-5118. We represent clients throughout the state of South Carolina, with offices conveniently located in both Spartanburg and Greenville.

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