State Supreme Court Bars Claim Indemnity Action Against Hospital Under Medical Malpractice Statute of Repose

At issue in this South Carolina Supreme Court case was whether the medical malpractice statute of repose applied to indemnify the claim of Columbia/CSA-HS Greater Columbia Healthcare System — also known as Providence Hospital. The trial court in the Court of Appeals in South Carolina held that it does and thus barred the indemnity action brought by Providence Hospital. Because the statute of repose barred the indemnify action brought by the Providence Hospital, the Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the lower court’s and the appellate court’s decision.

In 1997, Dr. Michael Hayes and Dr. Michael Taillon were working as emergency room physicians at Providence Hospital as independent contractors. Arthur Sharpe came to Providence Hospital in the emergency room on the same date. He was complaining of chest pain. Drs. Hayes and Taillon evaluated Sharpe and diagnosed him as suffering from gastric reflux. Sharpe was then discharged from the hospital; in fact, he had actually suffered a heart attack. That heart attack was determined a few days later when he went to seek other medical care.

Because of the misdiagnosis, on May 25, 1999, Sharpe and his wife filed a medical malpractice and loss of consortium suit against Providence Hospital and Dr. Hayes. The Sharpes did not name Dr. Taillon as a defendant. Providence Hospital settled with the Sharpes on June 10, 2004.

On June 7, 2007, Providence Hospital filed this equitable indemnification claim against Dr. Taillon and his medical malpractice insurer, The South Carolina Medical Malpractice Liability Joint Underwriting Association. They were both named as the respondents in this appeal. The respondents moved for summary judgment on the ground that the medical malpractice statute of repose barred Providence Hospital’s claim. The circuit court judge and the appellate court agreed. This appeal was taken and received by the South Carolina Supreme Court on a granted writ certiorari to review the court of appeal’s decision.

In South Carolina, the statute or repose is a six-year statute for medical malpractice actions. S.C. Code Ann. ¶15-3-545. “A statute of repose creates a substantive right in those protected to be free from liability after a legislatively determined period of time.” A statute of repose is typically an absolute time limit beyond which liability no longer exists and is tolled for any reason because to do so would upset the economic balance struck by the legislative body.” Langley v. Pierce, 313 S.C. 401, 403-404 (1993); Capco of Summerville, Inc. v. J.H. Gayle Constr. Co., 368 S.C. 137, 142 (2006).

In this case, it was up to Providence Hospital to prove that (1) Taillon was liable for causing Sharpe’s damages; (2) it was exonerated from any liability for those damages; and (3) it suffered damages as a result of Sharpe’s medical malpractice action, which was proven to the fault of Dr. Taillon.

“The court found that “[b]ecause Providence Hospital must establish [Dr.] Taillon’s liability for Sharpe’s damages in order show it is entitled to equitable indemnification, we find Providence Hospital’s action is an action to recover damages for injury to the person.” Accordingly, the court found that Providence Hospital could not prevail on its claim unless it proved that Dr. Taillon was liable to Sharpe for damages for injury to the person, which falls squarely within the language of the statute of repose.

Under these circumstances, the court held that the legislative intent was to bar Providence Hospital’s indemnity action because Sharpe came to Providence Hospital’s emergency room over 17 years ago, and there was no allegation of medical malpractice against Dr. Taillon much less any adjudication of guilt or innocence. Thus, the statute of repose barred this indemnification claim. To allow Providence Hospital to pursue this indemnification claim would be at odds with the language and purpose of the statute of repose given the fact that the action was brought so much later after the six-year statute. As a result, the South Carolina Supreme Court found that the statute of repose barred Provident Hospital’s indemnification claim and affirmed the lower court and the appellate court’s decisions.

Columbia/CSA-HS Greater Columbia Healthcare System, LP d-b-a Providence Hospital v. The South Carolina Medical Malpractice Liability Joint Underwriting Association, et al., No. 27484 (Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina, Jan. 21, 2015).

Robert D. Kreisman has successfully handled a number of cases in the State of South Carolina over the last 20 years, including a wrongful death medical malpractice case. Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice matters, nursing home abuse cases, birth injury cases and hospital negligence claims for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Blue Island, Calumet Park, Riverdale, Calumet City, Crestwood, Midlothian, Hickory Hills, Bridgeview, Riverside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Franklin Park, Elmwood Park, Chicago (Canaryville, Stockyards, Little Village, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Austin, Archer Heights, Midway, Chatham, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, Pill Hill, East Side), Harwood Heights and Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Related blog posts:

Jury Verdict of $5.2 Million Reduced by High-Low Agreement to $1.2 Million for Above-the-Knee Amputation Following Artery Injury

$4.51 Million Jury Verdict for Untimely Diagnosis and Treatment of Cardiac Arrest

$1.15 Million Jury Verdict for Patient with Chest Pain Leading to Fatal Heart Attack; Herring v. Blake