Regulating Medical Malpractice Cases

Posted by & filed under Medical Malpractice.

Medical malpractice, unfortunately, happens. Doctors are overworked, tired or simply negligent, and they make mistakes. When that happens, their patients are able to file suit alleging medical malpractice, and possibly be awarded compensation to help cover bills and living expenses that might not have been necessary if the mistake had not been made. However, while the need for justice is important, it cannot be open season on medical professionals. There are two major ways that states regulate potentially frivolous medical malpractice claims: damage caps and statutes of limitations.

Statutes of Limitations

A statute of limitations is defined as a law that establishes the maximum time that can pass between an injury and the filing of a lawsuit concerning that injury. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations on an action will vary depending on what specific cause of action is being cited – for example, for medical malpractice, the statute of limitations is three years, whereas for libel or slander, the statute mandates two years. Statutes of limitations exist so cases are tried while the facts are fresh in everyone’s minds; studies have shown that memories deteriorate over time, so if cases were permitted to be tried decades later, it would essentially be one party’s word against the other.

The statute of limitations on a medical malpractice case has a small clarification in most states, South Carolina included. The statute will end in three years – but it can either be three years from the date the injury occurred, or it can be three years from the date that the injury was discovered (or should have been discovered). While in practice this can be a very tight time frame, in reality there is a bit of leeway, especially if the problem caused is asymptomatic for a long period of time.

Damage Caps

The other way states often regulate medical malpractice cases is through the use of damage caps. There are two types of damages that are routinely awarded in personal injury matters: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are the specific losses you have incurred because of your injuries – for example, doctor’s bills, physical therapy, lost wages, and so on. It is generally considered to be inequitable – that is, unfair – to place damage caps on economic damages, because the entire purpose of bringing a lawsuit is to be made whole. However, non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or loss of consortium, are less tangible and more prone to being inequitable.

South Carolina has placed caps on non-economic damages, citing the measure as a way of preventing frivolous lawsuits. The maximum amount of non-economic damages permitted per claimant in any lawsuit is $350,000. However, this does not apply in cases where the conduct of the defendant medical practitioner or institution was wanton, reckless or malicious. It also does not apply to punitive damages.

Get A Legal Professional On Your Side

If you find yourself up against a statute of limitations, hiring an attorney is a good move. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Callihan & Syracuse are well versed in the law, and we are happy to help you through what can be a difficult process. Contact us today at our North Charleston office for a free initial consultation.