South Carolina Medical Malpractice: Statute of Limitations and Award Limits

South Carolina's state laws govern medical malpractice claims in very specific ways. In this article, we'll examine several of the rules that apply to medical negligence claims in South Carolina, starting with the time limit on filing such claims in a state court. We'll also look at the limits on medical malpractice damages in South Carolina and at the procedural requirements that apply specifically to such claims when they are brought to court.

Time Limits for Filing South Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

South Carolina sets a limit on the time available for filing a medical malpractice claim after an injury occurs. This limit is codified in a law called the "statute of limitations."

In South Carolina, a person injured by medical malpractice must file his or her claim within three years from the date the injury occurred -- or three years from the date the injury was discovered or should reasonably have been discovered. However, if the discovery date is used, the case must be filed within six years of the date of the injury, no matter what. These rules apply both to cases that cause injury and cases that cause wrongful death.

If a child under age eighteen is injured via medical negligence, the deadline falls seven years after the date of injury or one year after the child's eighteenth birthday, whichever is the longer deadline. These deadlines do not apply, however, if the child's parent or guardian and the defendant's insurer or provider committed fraud or collusion in failing to bring the case to court.

Limits on Damages in South Carolina Medical Malpractice Claims

Like many states, South Carolina places a damages cap on medical malpractice awards after a plaintiff is successful in a lawsuit. The damages cap in South Carolina applies only to non-economic damages, which include damages for pain and suffering.

South Carolina caps non-economic damages at $350,000 against a single health care provider or institution. If more than one provider or institution is held liable, non-economic damages are capped at $1.05 million, but no single defendant can be responsible for paying more than $350,000 in non-economic damages. This cap is adjusted for inflation each year.

"Economic" damages are not capped in South Carolina medical malpractice claims. These include damages for things like medical bills (past and future), lost wages, and other losses that can be calculated using invoices, receipts, pay stubs, and similar evidence.

Special Rules for South Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases

South Carolina has several special procedural rules governing medical malpractice claims.

The first rule many plaintiffs encounter is the affidavit of merit requirement. The affidavit of merit requirement states that before filing a medical malpractice claim, an injured plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney must file an affidavit from an expert medical witness. The affidavit must be signed by the expert witness, and it must state at least one alleged negligent act or omission that caused injury to the plaintiff. It must also state the factual basis for each claim made against each defendant in the case.

In addition to requiring an expert to fulfill the affidavit of merit requirement, South Carolina law also requires expert medical witness testimony to be introduced at trial to establish that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care when providing medical care to the plaintiff. An exception is made for cases in which even a non-expert could infer that negligence occurred.

Experts who sign an affidavit of merit or who testify in South Carolina must meet several requirements, including:

  • holding a license in the state in which he or she practices medicine
  • maintaining board certification, and
  • having actual professional knowledge or experience in the area of practice or specialty on which the expert bases his or her opinion about the medical standard of care that applies to the case.
An expert is considered to have "actual professional knowledge" if he or she had actively practiced or taught in an area or specialty for three of the five years immediately before giving his or her opinion in an affidavit of merit or at trial. If an expert does not meet this requirement, he or she may sign an affidavit of merit as long as the affidavit details the expert's background and credentials.