South Carolina Appeals Court Finds That Woman’s Medical Malpractice Case is Barred by “the Law of the Case” Doctrine, Due to Previous Litigation

The fact is that most civil lawsuits are settled outside court. Of those that are tried, only a small percentage are appealed. Fewer still are appealed past the intermediate court of appeals and on to the state’s highest court. Still, there are a few cases that make it all the way to the South Carolina Supreme Court, only to be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

When this happens, there are several rules that come into play regarding the effect that the court’s previous resolution of certain issues will have on the next round of litigation.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was a woman who filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendants (several doctors, a psychiatric center, and others), seeking compensation for injuries she allegedly suffered due to the defendants’ part in a 2005 effort by the plaintiff’s husband and son to have her involuntarily committed. Notably, the woman’s medical malpractice claim was made as an amendment to her complaint after her case was remanded after being heard in the trial court, appellate court, and South Carolina Supreme Court – twice. The Lexington County Circuit Court granted partial summary judgment to the defendants on the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim.

Decision of the State of South Carolina Court of Appeals

On appeal, the plaintiff insisted that the lower court had erred in granting the defendants summary judgment based upon res judicata and the law of the case; in support of this argument, the plaintiff stated that she had not previously litigated a medical malpractice claim against the defendants. The court first noted that the doctrine of “the law of the case” prohibits the relitigation of issues that have been previously litigated by the trial court in the same case; the rule applies not only to issues that were explicitly decided but also to those that were necessarily decided in the former case.

The court went on to agree with the trial court that, based on the state supreme court’s rulings in previous litigation between the parties, the plaintiff could not collaterally attack the underlying commitment orders via a medical malpractice action, especially when she did not allege that she received improper or negligent care while in the defendants’ care. Instead, the court found that her so-called “medical malpractice” claim was just another attempt to litigate the already decided issue of the validity of her commitment. As a result, her claims were barred by the law of the case and res judicata. Furthermore, at least one defendant was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity, according to the court.

Talk to a Knowledgeable South Carolina Trial Attorney

At the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices, an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice attorney can help you review the facts surrounding an alleged act of medical negligence to determine whether you have a viable claim against a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (864) 582-5118. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville, and we handle cases throughout the state of South Carolina.

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