South Carolina Court of Appeals Finds that Father Who Contributed Nothing to Pre-Natal or Birthing Expenses Could Not Share in Child’s Wrongful Death Claim Proceeds

Most South Carolina medical malpractice lawsuits revolve around the issues of whether the defendant health care provider breached the applicable standard of care and, if so, the amount of compensation due to the victim.However, sometimes there are other issues, such as in a recent case in which the malpractice action was settled, but a dispute arose as to who was entitled to share in the monetary proceeds paid by the allegedly negligent medical providers.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate case, the plaintiff was the mother of a minor child who died an hour after she was born. The mother brought a wrongful death and survival action against the child’s medical providers, seeking damages for medical malpractice. The mother named the defendant and another man (who was later dismissed from the case) as putative fathers. After the lawsuit was settled, the mother petitioned the trial court to deny the defendant any interest in the wrongful death proceeds, relying on South Carolina Code § 15-51-40. The probate court agreed with the mother that the defendant had failed to provide reasonable support and was thus not entitled to share in the proceeds of the settlement.

The matter was appealed to the circuit court, which reversed the probate court’s decision on the ground that the defendant was only obliged to support the child during her minority. Given the brevity of the child’s life, coupled with the defendant’s uncertainty over whether he was the father, the circuit court ruled that the probate court had acted improperly. The mother appealed.

Decision of the Court

The South Carolina court of appeals reversed the circuit court’s decision and affirmed the probate court’s ruling denying the father any interest in the wrongful death proceeds. In so holding, the court agreed with the probate court that the pre-natal and birth-related medical expenses for the child were “usual necessities” and that the defendant had neither paid nor offered to pay anything toward these costs. Although the circuit court found that there was no necessity to pay the medical expenses because they were covered by Medicaid, the court of appeals observed that the defendant was able-bodied, was capable of earning a livelihood, and worked for a major corporation. Nevertheless, the defendant was content to allow Medicaid to cover these expenses and never spoke up to ask what he (or possibly his health insurance company) could contribute. According to the court, the “reasonable support” set forth in South Carolina Code § 63-5-20 speaks of the obligation of the parent, rather than the government, to provide financial assistance to one’s child.

Talk to an Experienced South Carolina Injury Lawyer

If you or a family member has been hurt by an act of medical negligence, you need to talk to a lawyer. These types of cases have strict deadlines for filing, and failing to act in a timely fashion will likely result in the dismissal of your case – even if the doctor obviously made a mistake. To set up an appointment with a knowledgeable South Carolina medical malpractice attorney, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville.

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