SC medical provider liability: malpractice is not the only issue

When a doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse or other medical professional provides negligent or substandard medical care that harms a patient, the proper legal remedy is a lawsuit for medical malpractice. Some South Carolinians may be concerned that money damages for their injuries at the hands of medical defendants will be limited by South Carolina medical malpractice damage caps.

While South Carolina law does cap noneconomic damages for medical malpractice, medical professionals, companies and facilities can also harm patients in ways that are outside of traditional medical malpractice, and in those other types of lawsuits, damage caps normally do not apply.

In addition, injury or death in a medical facility can sometimes instead be the fault of a third party, raising the specter of other lawsuit types against other potentially responsible parties.

Is it malpractice?

An experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney can analyze an injury or death related to medical care or that happened in a medical facility to determine whether it is a medical malpractice claim subject to the cap on noneconomic damages (those that are subjective for "pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation, humiliation" and more.)

If it is medical malpractice, recovery may still be substantial and could include economic damages like medical expenses and lost wages, and punitive damages to punish the medical defendant, but any noneconomic damages will be subject to the caps as follows (officially adjusted annually for inflation):

  • $350,000 per plaintiff against a single health care provider or institution, or against each such defendant in a claim against up to three health care defendants.
  • $1,050,000 per plaintiff collectively in a claim against more than three health care defendants.

These caps do not apply when a health care defendant was "grossly negligent, willful, wanton, or reckless" in causing noneconomic damages; the defendant "engaged in fraud or misrepresentation related to the claim"; or the defendant "altered or destroyed medical records" to avoid liability.

Other potential legal claims

Other than traditional medical malpractice, negligent and reckless behavior that causes injury in a medical facility or in the delivery of related services may provide the basis for other types of liability:

  • A nursing home resident may have a premises liability claim as the victim of violence at the hands of an intruder who was able to enter the facility because the owner or contracted security service provided negligent security, or for injuries from tripping and falling on an uneven, poorly maintained floor.
  • A patient's survivors or estate may have a defective drug claim against a pharmaceutical company because the patient died after being injected with a medication that was contaminated by negligent processing in manufacturing.
  • A hospitalized patient may have a negligence claim against a hospital or food supplier when spoiled food caused severe illness.
  • A parent could have a negligent hiring claim if his or her child was harmed by a sex offender hired without a background check in a group home for people with disabilities.
  • And others like breach of contract, elder abuse, defective equipment, wrongful death, negligent supervision, negligence based on failure to comply with federal or state safety regulations, negligent infliction of emotional distress and more.

Anyone facing this problem - whether the direct victim or the survivor of a deceased victim - should speak with an experienced, knowledgeable South Carolina personal injury attorney who can assess whether the health care defendants involved might be liable for medical malpractice or under different legal theories of state or federal law.