Appellate Court Rules that Disabled Man’s Negligence Claim Against South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs Should Have Survived Summary Judgment

Those who are confined to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are extremely vulnerable. While it would be nice to believe that these individuals are given the care and treatment that they need and deserve, this is not always so.

Unfortunately, South Carolina nursing home negligence and medical malpractice lawsuits are so commonplace as to barely raise an eyebrow these days. While such litigation cannot undo the harm that was done, sizable settlements and jury verdicts can send a powerful message – a message that may result in better care for those in such facilities in the future.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a disabled adult man. Until he was 27, the decedent was cared for by his mother, but he was voluntarily committed to a residential facility after his mother became ill. His mother later sought to have custody returned to her, but a probate court judicially admitted the decedent to the care of the state department of disabilities and special needs. While in the department’s care, the decedent experienced multiple ailments, lost nearly 30 pounds, was beaten by an employee, repeatedly hit with a belt by another resident, bitten by ants, and suffered a 4-cm cut to his penis.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants, the state department of disabilities and special needs and two department employees, in the Richland County Circuit Court, asserting claims of negligence, gross negligence, negligent supervision, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed. (The decedent died while the case was pending on appeal.)

Decision of the Court

The court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case. The appellate court agreed that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, agreeing that they had not provided evidence to support their legal theory that the department had violated the Acts by structuring its provision of services to skew in favor of residential facility placements rather than in-home care.

The appeals court went on to find that summary judgment on the plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against the individual defendants and the negligence, gross negligence, and negligent supervision claims against the department should have survived the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. In asserting that the defendants committed these tortious acts when they failed to protect the decedent from assault, battery, and other wrongful acts, the court found that the plaintiff had provided at least the scintilla of evidence needed to defeat summary judgment. With regard to the statute of limitations, the court noted that the plaintiff’s amended complaint was filed in May 2008; due to his disability, he was to receive the benefit of a five-year tolling of the statute of limitations for each of his claims under South Carolina Code § 15-3-40.

Talk to a Lawyer About Your Loved One’s Wrongful Death

Knowing that a loved one has been hurt while in the care of another party is always difficult, but it can be especially painful when the loved one was powerless to resist abusive conduct by others, due to his or her physical or mental condition. If you need to talk to a knowledgeable South Carolina nursing home neglect attorney, the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices is here to assist you in asserting your legal rights. Call us at 864-582-5118 to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville, and we help clients throughout the state of South Carolina.

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