5 Things Victims Should Know About Medical Malpractice Lawsuits in South Carolina

Doctors and other medical professionals are placed in a position of trust. We expect them to act accordingly and to provide us with the best, most competent treatment possible. When that treatment falls below the standard of care, whether it be because the doctor had a bad day or was reckless and made a mistake, the person who suffers is the patient and her family.

Unfortunately, for victims of medical malpractice, the laws have evolved to protect deep-pocketed doctors and hospitals, rather than the victims. Barrier after barrier has been put up to stop or limit successful claims, and victims are often caught off guard by the maze of rules, procedures, and deadlines that must be followed to make a successful claim. Instead, they are left out in the cold.

In this article, we will look at five vital things for medical malpractice victims and their families to know about the legal process for bringing a claim, including time limits, potential damages, procedural barriers, potentially responsible  parties in medical malpractice cases, and tips on selecting a medical malpractice law firm. By understanding these key points, plaintiffs can have a better understanding of their rights and what to expect when filing a medical malpractice claim in South Carolina.

If you or a loved one was hurt because of the carelessness of a medical professional or facility, we encourage you to read this article and contact us for a free consultation. If you miss a deadline, your claim could be completely thrown out, leaving you with no way to make up for your losses and no compensation for your pain and suffering. Medical malpractice cases are typically hard fought battles that require an extensive time and financial commitment by the law firm. As such, not every medical error is economically feasible to pursue in litigation. The medical malpractice claims that our firm takes on usually involve either death or serious, permanent injury.


1. South Carolina's Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

In South Carolina, medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within three years of the date the medical negligence was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, but no later than six years from the time the negligence occurred, regardless of when it was discovered. If you suspect malpractice might have occurred, delay and suffering in silence can cost you. 

But there are a number of exceptions to this rule, including:

  • In cases where the medical facility at issue is publicly owned (by state or local government) or the negligent medical provider is an employee of state or local government, the limit is shortened to two years from the time that you knew or reasonably should have known that there might be a claim. There are special rules related to suing the government, including this shorter time limit.
  • In cases involving a surgical tool or other foreign object left in the body, the time limit is two years from when the object was discovered or should have been discovered. And in no case can a lawsuit be brought more than three years after the time the incident occurred. Note that this means the time limit is actually the shorter of two years from the time you find the object in your body (or should have found it) or three years from the surgery.
  • In cases involving minors, the statute of limitations is extended by as much as seven years, but the suit must be filed within one year of the victim’s 18th birthday, so, depending on the child’s age, the suit might still have to be filed before they reach adulthood.

As you can tell, the time limits for bringing a claim are not at all clear. Sometimes it’s only two years, sometimes as much as six years, and sometimes it can stretch all the way to a young victim’s 19th birthday. Because of this, it is important that you immediately pursue a potential claim and discuss your options with an attorney. 


2. Fault and Damages in South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The second thing plaintiffs should know about medical malpractice lawsuits in South Carolina is the types of damages that can be awarded. South Carolina requires a plaintiff to prove that a medical professional was negligent and caused them to suffer harm. In the context of medical care, negligence means a failure to exercise the degree of knowledge, skill, and care ordinarily possessed by medical providers in the same field or speciality under the same circumstances. Damages can include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, the inability to participate in your usual activities, and emotional distress. In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded as well. The amount of damages given is decided by a jury and depends on how bad the harm was and how much the doctor or nurse was at fault.

There are special limitations on the amount of damages available for claims against public hospitals, medical providers employed by state or local governments, and charities. This is especially true for economic damages — medical bills, lost wages, and other financial harm caused by malpractice.

  • For private practices, there is no limit on economic damages: As an example, if a professional athlete loses their ability to earn millions of dollars per year as a result of negligence, that private practice could be on the hook for all of it. 
  • In addition, private providers and facilities can be responsible for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, of just over $500,000 per defendant and $1.5 million if there are multiple defendants. 
  • Finally, there is a third type of damages for cases where the conduct was so severe that the court feels the need to punish the medical professional: Punitive damages are limited to three times the combined economic and noneconomic damages or just over $600,000, whichever is greater.

Compare that to government entities and charities, where damages of all types are capped at $1.2 million for a single act of negligence by a doctor.  If the malpractice was committed by anyone other than a doctor, damages are capped at $300,000 per person. Punitive damages are not available against governmental defendants or charities. There is an exception for employees of charities proven to be grossly negligent, who can be sued individually and potentially subject to punitive damages.


3. Pre-Suit Requirements for Medical Malpractice in South Carolina

A notice of intent to file suit and an affidavit of merit are needed to file a medical malpractice claim in South Carolina. This is one of the most confusing parts of the process. Before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must send a written notice of intent to sue to the person or organization being sued. The notice must be accompanied by an affidavit from a qualified expert confirming that the claim has merit, a short statement of the facts upon which the claim is based, and answers to standard questions found in the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Before the actual lawsuit can be filed, the parties are required to participate in a mediation settlement conference. Defendants rarely settle claims in presuit mediation, so it is just one more hurdle that an injured plaintiff has to jump through before they can get their claim in court.


4. Who Can Be Sued in South Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases

Fourth, it is important to understand who can be sued in a South Carolina medical malpractice case. Generally, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be brought against any healthcare provider who is found to have provided a negligent or careless service. This includes doctors, nurses, dentists, hospital administrators, and other healthcare personnel, and the practice they are employed by. In addition, it is possible to bring a claim against the hospital or medical facility itself. 

Knowing who to sue is almost as important as knowing when to sue. While the statute of limitations will prevent you from bringing claims if you are too late, suing the wrong person or leaving out negligent parties can similarly leave you with no claim or an incomplete claim. Many times, negligence is a product of failures by individuals as well as the systems in place at the medical facility, which are meant to prevent those failures and mitigate the damage when mistakes are made. A lack of oversight, inadequate supervision, and poor training are all reasons why a medical facility might be contributing to the problem and need to be held responsible. 


5. How to Find an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer in South Carolina

Finding an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in South Carolina is the key to ensuring that you get the compensation you deserve. Online reviews can be a great way to see how past clients feel about their experience with the firm. The firm’s experience is also vital; the firm should have extensive experience in medical malpractice cases so that they are aware of the complex minefield of legal requirements that must be negotiated. Finally, when you meet with the lawyer, make sure to ask questions to understand their approach and get a feel for their personality.


Don’t wait too long to pursue your claim

Here at Proffitt & Cox, we are proud of the many positive outcomes we have produced for our clients and of the numerous positive testimonials they have been willing to extend on our behalf. We prioritize personal attention and constant communication throughout the case, which can be especially important in a lengthy battle such as a medical malpractice case. We try to treat clients like neighbors and be there for them when they need us.

In conclusion, medical malpractice lawsuits in South Carolina can be complex and require specialized knowledge. It is important for plaintiffs to understand the process and their rights, as well as the time limits, so they can make informed decisions. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help guide plaintiffs through this process and work to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve. When you are ready, we offer a free consultation to discuss your case and potential options. Don’t wait too long to pursue your claim because, as we mentioned, there are tricky timelines here in South Carolina that are meant to limit claims rather than protect the victims. Moving forward quickly to determine if you have a claim will protect your rights and increase the chances for a successful outcome.