United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT UNITED
STATES' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON DAMAGES
(ECF NO. 120)
CAMERON McGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
this action, Zekiya Knox (“Plaintiff”) seeks
recovery for alleged medical malpractice by a variety of
medical providers involved in her care between September 2013
and May 2014. Plaintiff alleges these providers failed
to properly and timely diagnose and treat her underlying
condition, Crohn's disease, and that this failure led to
the development of sepsis. Plaintiff further alleges various
Defendants failed to properly treat her sepsis and that the
collective errors led to Plaintiff's loss of three limbs.
Plaintiff asserts a single claim for medical negligence
against all Defendants, though the specifically alleged
errors vary between Defendants. See ECF No. 88 (Second
matter is before the court on motion of Defendant United
States' for partial summary judgment on the issue of
damages. ECF No. 120. The United States argues a damages
limitation applies because NCFMC is a tax-exempt charitable
organization providing medical care to underserved patient
populations, and under South Carolina law, liability of a
private charitable organization is capped at $1.2 million
when physicians are involved in the alleged tort. ECF No.
120-1. Plaintiff agrees the United States is entitled to a
limitation of damages, but argues there were multiple
different occurrences of negligence and therefore the United
States' exposure exceeds $1.2 million. ECF No. 132. In
reply, the United States argues there were not multiple
instances of negligence and the $1.2 million damage cap
applies. ECF No. 138. For reasons set forth below, the motion
is denied as the court is unable to find as a matter of law
there was only one occurrence of negligence.
alleges injury after abdominal pain, which she alleges was
never properly treated, developed into “significant
damage to her intestines and caused a life threatening
infection, ” sepsis. ECF No. 88, Sec. Am. Compl. ¶
37. Plaintiff originally presented to the Piedmont Emergency
Room (“Piedmont ER”) on September 13, 2013,
complaining of persistent abdominal pain. Id. at
¶ 9. She was seen by Defendant Dr. Warden, who performed
a physical examination and ordered lab testing, ultrasound of
the lower abdomen, and CT scan. Id. at ¶¶
9-11. Plaintiff was discharged from the ER with narcotic pain
killers and an instruction to follow up with a
gastroenterologist. Id. at ¶ 14. On September
19, 2013, Plaintiff was seen by Defendant Dr. Garretson, a
gastroenterologist, who scheduled and conducted a colonoscopy
on September 25, 2013. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.
Dr. Garretson was unsure if his findings represented
“appendicitis or IBD” (id. at ¶ 16), so he
referred Plaintiff to a surgeon, Defendant Dr. Espinal, that
same day. Id. at ¶ 17. Dr. Espinal ruled out
acute abdominal process and ordered a CT scan, but Plaintiff
alleges she was never informed of that appointment.
Id. at ¶¶ 18, 18.1.
next day, September 26, Plaintiff went to see April Logan, a
physician's assistant at NCFMC, a federally funded
community health care center, complaining of abdominal pain.
Id. at ¶ 19. Ms. Logan ordered an ultrasound,
which was performed September 30, 2013 and showed
“prominent bowel loops . . .with a somewhat thickened
appearance.” Id. at ¶¶ 19.1, 20. Ms.
Logan took no action in response to this finding.
Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff was next seen by Ms.
Logan on January 14, 2014, for abdominal pain. Id.
at ¶ 24. Ms. Logan referred Plaintiff back to Dr.
Espinal, who saw Plaintiff in February 2014. Plaintiff was
prescribed prednisone at that appointment and “the
records reflect there was to be an appointment scheduled with
Dr. Garretson, [but] this was never made known to Ms.
Knox.” Id. at ¶ 26.
March 21, 2014, Plaintiff returned to NCFMC complaining of
abdominal pain. Id. at ¶ 28. The physician she
saw ordered another ultrasound, which was performed on April
4, 2014, and “noted tubular structures and encouraged a
CT scan.” Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30.
Plaintiff was to follow up at NCFMC on April 14 for
ultrasound results, but instead returned to the Piedmont ER
by ambulance that day. Id. at ¶ 31. Tests and
examination showed an elevated white count, lower quadrant
pain, and “what was then believed to be bacteria in her
urine.” Id. at ¶ 32. Dr. Warden
“remarked her presentation was similar to her
presentation in September, ” and accessed those
records, but the only treatment rendered was a prescription
for an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection. Id.
at ¶¶ 33-34. Defendant Fleet, a physician's
assistant in the ER, ordered an additional antibiotic after
reviewing results of a vaginal culture on April 18, 2014.
Id. at ¶ 36.
4, 2014, Plaintiff returned to the Piedmont ER. Id.
at ¶ 37. She was diagnosed with “either an
infected inflamed appendix or a flare up of IBD that was
never properly discovered or treated.” Id. She
went into septic shock and ultimately lost three limbs.
Id. at ¶ 39.
judgment should be granted if “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It is well established that summary
judgment should be granted “only when it is clear that
there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the
controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those
facts.” Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties,
810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). The party moving for
summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact, and the court must view the
evidence before it and the inferences to be drawn therefrom
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655
Federal Tort Claims Act waives the sovereign immunity of the
United States for civil actions in federal court for injuries
“caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of
any employee of the Government while acting within the scope
of his office or employment.” 28 U.S.C. §
1346(b)(1). “The United States shall be liable,
respecting the provisions of this title relating to tort
claims, in the same manner and to the same extent as a
private individual under like circumstances . . .” 28
U.S.C. § 2674.
South Carolina Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act
(“CFA”) limits liability for injury caused by an
employee of a charitable organization to “an amount not
exceeding the limitations on liability imposed in the South
Carolina Tort Claims Act in Chapter 78 of Title 15.”
S.C. Code § 33-56-180(A). The South Carolina Tort Claims
Act (“SCTCA”) states
any action or claim for damages brought under the provisions
of this chapter, the liability shall ...