When someone is a victim of medical malpractice, he or she may incur substantial medical expenses because of his or her injuries. When the injured person is a minor child, it is usually the parent who bears the financial responsibility for those expenses. The state’s highest court entertained a South Carolina medical malpractice case earlier this month in which the issue was whether a minor had the right to sue for his or her medical expenses or whether only a parent had that right.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case under consideration by the South Carolina Supreme Court, the plaintiff was the mother of a minor child who allegedly suffered an injury during her birth in 2007. The mother, acting as the child’s next friend, brought two separate medical malpractice actions in York County, one in 2009 against the doctor and medical group and one in 2012 against the medical center. The lawsuits were consolidated.
The defendants sought summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claim for the child’s medical expenses, arguing that the circuit court should dismiss the plaintiff’s “as next friend” claim for the child’s medical expenses because only a parent—rather than the child—had the right to recover damages for a minor’s medical expenses. Noting that the plaintiff had not filed a claim in her individual capacity, only as the minor’s next friend, the circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the issue. The court of appeals affirmed.
Primary Issue to be Decided
May a minor child bring an action for her own medical expenses?
Decision of the Court
The supreme court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. First, the court noted that the resolution of the issue hinged upon whether the minor was a “real party in interest” and that South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a) was controlling. Under Rule 17, “every action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” A representative may sue on the minor’s behalf. If the representative seeks to amend the complaint, there should be no unnecessary dismissal, and the trial court should work to reach the merits.
Accordingly, the trial court should have allowed the plaintiff to amend her complaint to make a claim for the minor’s medical expenses in her individual, rather than representative, capacity, at least as to the defendants in the first lawsuit. (The plaintiff apparently conceded that she could not pursue a claim for the minor’s pre-majority medical expenses against the medical center.)
With regard to the defendants’ arguments regarding the statute of limitations, the court noted that the plaintiff merely sought to “amend her own complaint to maintain the same claim in a different capacity.”
Have Questions About a South Carolina Medical Negligence Case?
If you believe that you or a family member has been a victim of a medical error, mistake, or misdiagnosis, you should speak to an attorney about the possibility of filing a medical negligence case. To schedule an appointment with an experienced Spartanburg medical malpractice attorney, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices today at 864-583-5118. We offer a free consultation, and we serve clients throughout the state, including in Greenville and the surrounding area.
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