Today’s Opinions from the Supreme Court of South Carolina

scsctToday the Supreme Court of South Carolina handed down four opinions involving attorneys and ethics and an opinion that construed the medical malpractice statute of repose as applied to an indemnity claim.

In the Matter of Brian N. Davis resulted in the disbarment of Davis for violations of Rule 21 of Rules for Lawyerly Discipline Enforcement.  Davis engaged in many behaviors that resulted in his ultimate disbarment, including drafting fraudulent title insurance policies, misappropriating client funds from trust funds, and neglecting client litigation.  Before applying for readmission, Davis must make restitution of over $380,000.00 to former clients, banks and title companies and take the South Carolina Bar’s Ethics course.

In the Matter of John W. Howard, William D. Rhoad, IV  and David Weldon Gantt all involved public reprimands for attorney misconduct and violations of the Rules for Lawyerly Discipline Enforcement.  Howard involved inattention to financial detail that created overdraft errors for several clients while Rhoad failed to follow up and follow through while representing clients.  These failures resulted in missed hearings and the award of fewer damages for clients.  Gantt was reprimanded for failing to disclose a conflict of interest when representing individuals who were also his business partners.

Lastly, the Court interpreted and applied South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-3-545, a statute of repose for medical malpractice actions in Columbia Healthcare d/b/a/ Providence Hospital v. South Carolina Medical Malpractice Liability Joint Underwriting Association and Michael P. Taillon.  Writing for the majority, Justice Kittredge framed the issue before the Court as “…whether the medical malpractice statue of repose applies to the indemnity claim of Petitioner Columbia….”

Dr. Hayes and Dr. Taillon, working as emergency room physicians for Providence Hospital in 1997 as independent contractors, failed to diagnose a heart attack in a patient, Arthur Sharpe when he visited the emergency room in 1997.  Another hospital later discovered the heart attack.  Sharpe then sued the hospital and Dr. Hayes in 1999.  Dr. Taillon was not included in these lawsuits.  The hospital settled with Sharpe in 2004.

In 2007, the hospital brought this action against Dr. Taillon and his medical malpractice insurer.  Taillon and the insurer both cited S.C. Code of Laws 15-3-545, asserting that the statute of repose acted as a statute of limitations, barring the hospital’s recovery.  They moved for summary judgment which was granted.  The hospital’s appeal then following.

Reviewing and analyzing the statute  of repose, the Court concluded that “[t]here was no allegation of medical malpractice against Dr. Taillon, much less any adjudication, within the statute of repose.  Permitting Providence Hospital’s indemnity claim to proceed at this juncture would ‘allow Providence Hospital to subject Dr. Taillon to liability for medical malpractice after the legislatively proscribed six-year statute of repose expired.’  Such a result would be fundamentally at odds with the language and manifest purpose of the statute of repose.”  The majority affirmed the Circuit Court while Chief Justice Toal dissented.

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Associate Professor of Law Charleston School of Law 385 Meeting St., Suite 322B Charleston, S.C. 29403 843.377.2144
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