Going through a health crisis can be an incredibly stressful time in your life. You may be worried about losing your job if you can't quickly return to work or going into serious medical debt once the bills start rolling in. If your illness or injury was caused (or exacerbated) by a doctor or other healthcare provider, you may be wondering whether you should pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit to help compensate you for your losses and complications.
While a malpractice lawsuit can be a viable option for anyone who gets injured by a medical provider's negligence, there are several necessary steps you'll need to take before you ever see the inside of a courtroom. Read on to learn more about South Carolina's medical malpractice laws and what you'll need to do before filing a lawsuit against your doctor, hospital, or healthcare system.
The statute of limitations, or the time limit for filing a malpractice lawsuit, is three years from the date of the injury. This time limit can be extended to three years from the discovery of the injury if the situation is such that it would have been impossible to discover the problem sooner. This statute of limitations can't be extended beyond six years from the initial injury, regardless of when the discovery was.
Before you can file a civil lawsuit against your physician, you must file a "notice of intent" and an expert witness's affidavit verifying that you're qualified to file suit and are entitled to relief for the injury you've suffered. Once you file a notice of intent, the statute of limitations pauses, so filing this notice just before the three or six-year mark can preserve your right to sue.
Filing a notice of intent gives you the right to subpoena your medical records and other documentation that can support your claim, but you'll need to begin this process quickly. Between 90 and 120 days, after you file your notice of intent, you're required to take part in a mediation conference with the defendant physician or hospital. Only if this conference is unsuccessful will you be able to proceed with filing a civil lawsuit.
During the mediation process, you'll be expected to participate in good faith. That is, if you go into the process determined not to accept any offer made by the defendant and refuse to negotiate, you may not be granted permission to sue- even if the mediation is ultimately unsuccessful. It's important to go into mediation with an open mind, willing to negotiate- but also willing to put your foot down when necessary to ensure you receive all the compensation to which you're entitled.
Mediation is conducted with a neutral arbiter, who may speak to both you and the defendant alone in a conference known as a "caucus." Anything you say during the caucus is confidential and is not disclosed to the other party, but you may elect to allow the mediator to convey certain information to the defendant to try to move both of you closer to a mutually-satisfactory agreement.
If despite your best efforts, you and the defendant are unable to see eye-to-eye with regards to your injuries and the amount you feel you're entitled to, it may be time to file a civil lawsuit. The advantage to suing after mediation is that you already have access to a great deal of discovery material, making it easier for you and your attorney to put together an airtight case.