The issue addressed by the South Carolina Supreme Court in its opinion filed on March 27, 2019 was: “In a medical malpractice case where evidence exists that doctors breached the standard of care on multiple occasions, does the statute of repose begin to run with each breach, resulting in recent breaches being actionable even though older ones are barred?”
South Carolina’s Statute Of Repose
South Carolina’s statute of repose for medical malpractice claims requires an action to be commenced within “six years from date of occurrence.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-545(A) (2005).
Subsection 15-3-545(A) provides: “[T]o recover damages for injury to the person arising out of any medical, surgical, or dental treatment, omission, or operation by any licensed health care provider . . . acting within the scope of his profession must be commenced within three years from the date of the treatment, omission, or operation giving rise to the cause of action or three years from date of discovery or when it reasonably ought to have been discovered, not to exceed six years from date of occurrence, or as tolled by this section.”
The six-year period constitutes an outer limit beyond which a medical malpractice claim is barred, regardless of whether it has or should have been discovered.
The South Carolina Supreme Court acknowledged the policy behind section 15-3-545(A) as an absolute time limit beyond which liability no longer exists and is not tolled for any reason because to do so would upset the economic balance struck by the legislative body. The purpose behind the statute of repose is, in part, that when causes of action are extinguished after such time, society generally may continue its business and personal relationships in peace, without worry that some cause of action may arise to haunt it because of some long-forgotten act or omission.
The South Carolina Supreme Court stated, however, “We fail to see the logic in preventing an aggrieved party from seeking redress for acts that occurred within the repose period. It can hardly be said that the acts of negligence alleged here that occurred within the repose period constitute “long-forgotten” acts or omissions … we reject the notion that our statute of repose requires us to aggregate multiple acts of malpractice as part of a “first diagnosis rule.” Neither the statute’s language nor our precedent sanctions such a result.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court held: “Section 15-3-545(A) begins to run after each occurrence, which is consistent with our rejection of the continuous treatment rule and the continuous tort doctrine. Accordingly, we affirm as modified.”
Source Marshall v. Dodds, Opinion No. 27873.
In its opinion dated June 19, 2019 in another South Carolina medical malpractice case, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision that there was evidence to support the South Carolina medical malpractice plaintiff’s claim that the defendants acted negligently within six years of filing her lawsuit: “we find the allegations of medical malpractice indistinguishable from those in Marshall.”
Source Johnson v. Roberts, Opinion No. 27897.
If you or a loved one may have suffered serious harm as a result of medical negligence 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 medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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