South Carolina Appellate Court Affirms Emergency Medical Care Defense In Shoulder Dystocia Birth Injury Case

In its opinion filed on October 6, 2021, the State of South Carolina Court of Appeals (“South Carolina Appellate Court”) held in a a shoulder dystocia brachial plexus birth injury medical malpractice case that “the trial court did not err in its interpretation of section 15-32-230 and in denying Appellants’ motion to strike the defense.”

Section 15-32-230 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2020), which provides physicians immunity from simple negligence in certain medical malpractice suits, states:

“(A) In an action involving a medical malpractice claim arising out of care rendered in a genuine emergency situation involving an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the patient receiving care in an emergency department or in an obstetrical or surgical suite, no physician may be held liable unless it is proven that the physician was grossly negligent.

(B) In an action involving a medical malpractice claim arising out of obstetrical care rendered by a physician on an emergency basis when there is no previous doctor/patient relationship between the physician or a member of his practice with a patient or the patient has not received prenatal care, such physician is not liable unless it is proven such physician is grossly negligent.

(C) The limitation on physician liability established by subsections (A) and (B) shall only apply if the patient is not medically stable and: (1) in immediate threat of death; or (2) in immediate threat of serious bodily injury.

Further, the limitation on physician liability established by subsections (A) and (B) shall only apply to care rendered prior to the patient’s discharge from the emergency department or obstetrical or surgical suite.”

Appellants argued that, when section 15-32-230 is read as a whole, subsection (B) limits the immunity provided in subsection (A) if the physician provided obstetrical care. The trial court held the statute describes “two separate and distinct situations” in which a physician cannot be liable for simple negligence and denied Appellants’ motion to strike the affirmative defense. The court included subsections (A) and (C) in its jury instructions. After deliberating, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Respondents. The jury found that although Respondents negligently harmed the baby (Ashley), the negligence occurred while the doctor rendered care in a genuine emergency situation in which Ashley was medically unstable and in an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Appellants moved for a new trial, asserting the court should have struck the affirmative defense. The trial court denied the motion, and Appellants filed an appeal.

South Carolina Appellate Court Opinion

The South Carolina Appellate Court stated: “From a plain reading of the text, we find subsection (A) describes a physician that encounters an emergency while providing care whereas subsection (B) describes a physician treating a patient previously unassociated with the physician or his or her practice or lacking prior prenatal care. Because subsections (A) and (B) describe different factual scenarios in which a physician might provide negligent care, we find the legislature intended subsection (B) to apply separately from subsection (A) rather than as a limitation to (A). Moreover, the language within subsection (B) neither indicates that it is a limitation on the defense provided in subsection (A) nor does it state that subsection (A) only provides a defense for obstetrical care if the requirements within subsection (B) are satisfied … Accordingly, we find section 15-32-230 provides a defense against simple negligence in two separate and distinct scenarios. Thus, we hold the trial court did not err in its interpretation of section 15-32-230 and in denying Appellants’ motion to strike the defense.”

Source Flowers v. Giep, M.D., Opinion No. 5864.

If you or a loved one have suffered serious harm as a result of a birth injury in South Carolina or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a South Carolina medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 5:25 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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