A man presented at a hospital’s emergency room complaining of chest pain. Two emergency room physicians evaluated the man and diagnosed him as suffering from reflux. The man was discharged. The man had actually suffered a heart attack, which was determined a few days later when he sought further medical care elsewhere.
The man filed a medical malpractice and loss of consortium action against the hospital and one of the emergency room physicians. The suit did not name the second emergency room physician. Five years after the man initially filed his complaint, the hospital settled with the man. Three years later, the hospital filed an equitable indemnification action against the emergency room physician who was not named in the underlying suit and his medical malpractice insurer.
The physician and his insurer moved for summary judgment on the ground that South Carolina’s medical malpractice six-year statute of repose barred the hospital’s claim. The Richland County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of the physician and insurer. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed. The court held that the hospital's equitable indemnification action was subject to the medical malpractice six-year statute of repose.
The hospital's equitable indemnification action was subject to the medical malpractice six-year statute of repose. In order to prove it was entitled to equitable indemnification, the hospital had to show (1) the unnamed emergency room physician was liable for causing the man’s damages; (2) the hospital was exonerated from any liability for those damages; and (3) the hospital suffered damages as a result of the man’s medical malpractice action, which was eventually proven to be the fault of the unnamed emergency room physician. Because the hospital had to establish the emergency room physician’s liability for the man’s damages in order to show the hospital was entitled to equitable indemnification, the hospital’s action was an action to recover damages for injury to the person. The language of the statute of repose specifically applied to any claims of liability for damages for injury to the person. Therefore, the hospital’s claim was subject to the six-year statute of repose. The court noted that there was no allegation of medical malpractice against the unnamed emergency room physician, much less any adjudication, within the six-year statute of repose. The court reasoned that to allow the hospital to subject the unnamed emergency room physician to liability for medical malpractice after the legislatively prescribed six-year statute of repose expired would be at odds with the language and manifest purpose of the statute of repose.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the physician and insurer.
See: Columbia/CSA-HS Greater Columbia Healthcare System, LP v. South Carolina Medical Malpractice Liability Joint Underwriting Ass'n, 2015 WL 249536 (S.C., January 21, 2015) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2013 Report: Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Attacks: Liability Issues
See also Medical Law Perspectives, December 2012 Report: When Urgency Leads to Errors: Liability for Emergency Care