Case Summary: Turner v. Medical University of South Carolina

The South Carolina Court of Appeals recently decided a medical malpractice case involving allegations of negligence against an anesthesiologist. In Turner v. Medical University of South Carolina, Opinion No. 5723, 2020 WL 2182256 (S.C. Ct. App. May 6, 2020), a patient went into cardiac arrest and died during a colonoscopy, and the decedent’s estate brought a medical malpractice action against the hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina (“MUSC”) in Charleston. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the issue of whether an anesthesiologist breached the standard of care by leaving the room during the decedent’s colonoscopy was a question of fact for the jury. The Court of Appeals also held that the estate’s expert witness presented sufficient evidence from which the jury could determine that the patient’s cardiac arrest was caused by the supervising anesthesiologist.

In Turner, the Court of Appeals reiterated thatin South Carolina, to establish a cause of action for medical malpractice, a plaintiff must prove the following acts by the preponderance of the evidence: (1) presence of a doctor-patient relationship; (2) recognized and generally accepted standards, practices, and procedures which are exercised by competent physicians in the same branch of medicine under similar circumstances; (3) negligence on the part of the medical or health professional, which deviated from generally accepted standards, practices, and procedures; (4) such negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and (5) injury to the plaintiff. Additionally, in a medical malpractice case, unless the subject matter of the claim falls within an ordinary person’s common knowledge or experience, expert testimony is required to establish the duty owed to the patient and the medical professional’s breach of that duty.

Applying these principles to the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals in Turner concluded that it was for the jury to determine whether an anesthesiologist breached the standard of care by leaving the room during the decedent’s colonoscopy. There was evidence that the established standard of care was not to leave the room when a patient’s blood oxygen levels were not consistently in a certain range and that the patient’s airway should have been supported to increase saturation levels. Because the record was ambiguous as to the point at which the anesthesiologist left the room, how long he was gone, when the patient’s saturation levels dropped, and what actions were taken to increase them, it was for the jury to determine the issue of negligence.

Marghretta Shisko

Blog post by partner Marghretta Shisko. Click here to read more about Marghretta.

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