If you have been the victim of dental malpractice in South Carolina, you may be able to seek compensation through a dental malpractice claim. However, the South Carolina statute of limitations for dental malpractice can prevent you from bringing a case if you wait too long. Thus, to protect your rights, you should consult a South Carolina dental malpractice lawyer as soon as you can.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations establishes the time frame within which a person must take legal action against another individual or entity. It’s essentially a legal deadline. These deadlines are imposed for public policy reasons. Namely, they encourage diligent and timely prosecution of known claims, as well as the resolution of claims while supporting evidence is still available and while the facts are still fresh in the minds of the witnesses. The statute of limitations promotes fairness.
The U.S. Supreme Court has famously stated the following:
“Statutes of limitation … in their conclusive effects are designed to promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared.” See Order of R.R. Telegraphers v. Ry. Express Agency, 321 U.S. 342 (1944).
Another way to phrase this is that the statute of limitations helps create predictability by preventing people from bringing claims too many years after an incident. Additionally, the statute of limitations prevents people from bringing claims when the evidence is stale, and memories are fuzzy.
Think about it. If someone brought a dental malpractice claim 20 years after an alleged incident, how could anyone get a fair trial? Would people be able to remember anything accurately after 20 years? Would anyone have any relevant documentation after that long? Clearly, we need to draw a line somewhere, and that’s what the statute of limitations does.
Which Statute of Limitations Applies to My Dental Malpractice Claim?
Each state establishes statutes of limitations. Thus, the applicable statute of limitations depends on where your case would be tried. We call this the “proper venue.” In South Carolina, this is probably going to be in the court that has jurisdiction in the county where you were harmed (the dental practice location) or where the defendant or defendants live (where the dentist lives).
Either way, the rules that govern a particular case will generally apply statewide. For example, if you have a South Carolina personal injury claim, then the South Carolina statutes, South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and South Carolina Rules of Evidence will apply to that case.
What is the South Carolina Dental Malpractice Statute of Limitations?
In South Carolina, an action for dental malpractice must be filed within three (3) years from the date you were injured. However, if you don’t discover the injury until later, the 3-year time limit might begin running when you discover the injury or when you reasonably should have discovered the injury, as opposed to when the injury actually occurred. However, no matter what the circumstances are, you will never have no more than six (6) years from the date the injury occurred to file a claim for dental malpractice in South Carolina. In some states, this final deadline is known as the "statute of repose."
For example, you could be injured by your dentist in January 2023, but you may not know you were injured until one year later, in January 2024. In this situation, the 3-year time limit would not start running until you discovered your injury, in January 2024. However, even if you did not discover your injury until January 2028, 5 years later, you couldn’t file you dental malpractice lawsuit past January 2029, six years after the incident actually occurred.
There is an interesting caveat in the South Carolina medical malpractice statute where the action involves a doctor leaving a “foreign object” in the body of a patient. In these unique situations, the statute of limitations is two (2) years from the date of discovery or within three (3) years of the occurrence. Thus, where a foreign object is involved, like those famous cases where a doctor left a sponge in the body cavity of a patient, the statute of limitations is shorter.
For your convenience, we have included the relevant South Carolina statute below.
South Carolina Section 15-3-545. Actions for Medical Malpractice
(A) In any action, other than actions controlled by subsection (B), to recover damages for injury to the person arising out of any medical, surgical, or dental treatment, omission, or operation by any licensed health care provider as defined in Article 5, Chapter 79, Title 38 acting within the scope of his profession must be commenced within three years from the date of the treatment, omission, or operation giving rise to the cause of action or three years from date of discovery or when it reasonably ought to have been discovered, not to exceed six years from date of occurrence, or as tolled by this section.
(B) When the action is for damages arising out of the placement and inadvertent, accidental, or unintentional leaving of a foreign object in the body or person of any one or the negligent placement of any appliance or apparatus in or upon any such person by any licensed health care provider acting within the scope of his profession by reason of any medical, surgical, or dental treatment or operation, the action must be commenced within two years from date of discovery or when it reasonably ought to have been discovered; provided, that, in no event shall there be a limitation on the commencement of the action less than three years after the placement or leaving of the appliance or apparatus.
(C) The provisions of this section apply only to causes of action which arise after June 10, 1977, and, as to causes of action which arise prior to June 10, 1977, the statute of limitations existing prior to June 10, 1977, applies.
(D) Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 15-3-40, if a person entitled to bring an action against a licensed health care provider acting within the scope of his profession is under the age of majority at the date of the treatment, omission, or operation giving rise to the cause of action, the time period or periods limiting filing of the action are not tolled for a period of more than seven years on account of minority, and in any case more than one year after the disability ceases. Such time limitation is tolled for minors for any period during which parent or guardian and defendant's insurer or health care provider have committed fraud or collusion in the failure to bring an action on behalf of the injured minor.
HISTORY: 1962 Code Section 10-145.1; 1977 Act No. 182, Section 2; 1988 Act No. 432, Section 3.
What Happens if the Statute of Limitations Has Already Run?
If you take legal action after the statute of limitations has passed, a court can dismiss your case upon motion by the defendant. As we talked about above, the statute of limitations gives finality to our legal system, and this is very important. Therefore, courts tend to strictly adhere to the statute of limitations.
If you suspect that you’ve been wrongfully injured by the negligent actions of a dentist, it’s best to get the ball rolling as soon as possible and contact a South Carolina dental malpractice lawyer. Otherwise, you may lose your right to bring a dental malpractice claim forever.