Tolling Provision in South Carolina’s Limitations Statute for Medical Malpractice Suits Given Narrow Interpretation

Sims v. Amisub of South Carolina, Inc., — S.E.2d — (S.C. 2015), 2015 WL 4751030

In this case, the Supreme Court of South Carolina has given a narrow interpretation to the tolling exception to the state’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice suits. This statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15–3–545(A), provides that minors can toll the three year limitations period till adulthood, but makes no similar arrangement for other disabled plaintiffs. Such an arrangement was made by the state’s general statute of limitations, S.C. Code Ann. § 15–3–40, which gives tolling rights to any person who was “at the time the cause of action accrued either (1) within the age of eighteen years; or (2) insane.”

The plaintiff complained about her doctors’ failure to diagnose pre-eclampsia: a serious complication of pregnancy that left her with severe brain damage. The plaintiff delayed her suit beyond the statutory limit, which she attempted to toll on the grounds of insanity. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff could be properly categorized as “insane” in light of her brain damage, but she could not benefit from that categorization because it only helps plaintiffs who attempt to toll the general statute of limitations, as opposed to the limitations period set for medical malpractice suits.

To be entitled to toll this period, a plaintiff must show that she was a minor when her cause of action accrued, whereas in the present case the plaintiff was already 22 years old when she was allegedly mistreated by her doctors. The plaintiff argued that she was as disabled as a minor person, which should make her equally entitled to tolling, but the Court disagreed. The Court reasoned that it “fully understands [the plaintiff’s] equitable argument that fairness dictates that incapacities other than minority should be read into the medical malpractice statute of limitations.” However, the Court decided that “the fairness of such decisions remains within the prerogative of the legislature and not the [C]ourt.”