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Byrd v. McLeod Physician Associates II

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 3, 2019

Christy Byrd, as Next Friend of Julia B., a minor, Appellant,
v.
McLeod Physician Associates II and Dr. John B. Browning, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2016-001551

          Heard March 4, 2019

          Appeal From Florence County William H. Seals, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          Edward L. Graham, of Graham Law Firm, PA, of Sumter, for Appellant.

          Mary Agnes Hood Craig, Elloree A. Ganes, Benjamin Houston Joyce, and Deborah Harrison Sheffield, all of Hood Law Firm, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondents.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         Christy Byrd, as next friend of Julia B., a minor, appeals a trial court order denying her motion for a new trial and/or judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing the trial court erred in declining to find the obstetric emergency statute inapplicable to this case as a matter of law. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Christy Byrd brought this medical malpractice action on behalf of Julia B., her minor daughter, alleging Dr. John B. Browning, her obstetrician, breached the standard of care in his October 8, 2009 delivery of Julia. During the delivery, Julia presented with shoulder dystocia when her shoulder became stuck under her mother's pubic bone. Byrd alleges Dr. Browning failed to properly manage and resolve Julia's shoulder dystocia during delivery, which resulted in a permanent brachial plexus nerve injury to Julia's right arm.

         On March 12, 2013, Byrd filed a summons and complaint on Julia's behalf against Dr. Browning and McLeod Physician Associates, Inc. (collectively Respondents). [1]Respondents answered with general denials and asserted the affirmative defense of the emergency obstetrical care exception found in section 15-32-230 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2018). Respondents later amended their answer to assert the solicitation of charitable funds act defense. At the close of Respondents' case, Byrd moved for a directed verdict, arguing the obstetric emergency affirmative defense did not apply to the case as a matter of law because

no witness has offered testimony as to the necessary elements, which include medical instability, immediate threat of death or harm. Neither of these two of the three elements have been satisfied. The only testimony that has come in on that has come in in direct contradiction of - - of witnesses' own sworn testimony.

         The trial court denied Byrd's motion. The trial court charged the jury as follows concerning section 15-32-230:

In an action involving medical malpractice - in a medical malpractice claim arising out of care rendered in a genuine emergency situation in an obstetrician suite where the patient is not stable and there is an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to the patient, no physician may be held liable unless it is proven that the physician was grossly negligent. In regards to this emergency exception, the defendants must prove this by the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence.

         In addition, the verdict form given to the jury, which neither party objected to, provided:

1. Did the defendants prove by a greater weight or preponderance of the evidence that the facts of this case did arise out of a genuine emergency situation where the patient is not medically stable and there is an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury?

         The jury answered this question in the affirmative. In addition, the jury determined Dr. Browning was not grossly negligent. Byrd filed a motion for a new trial absolute and/or judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the trial court denied in an order dated July 11, 2016. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "In an action at law, on appeal of a case tried by a jury, the jurisdiction of the appellate court extends merely to the correction of errors of law, and a factual finding by the jury will not be disturbed unless a review of the record discloses there is no evidence which reasonably supports the jury's findings." Wright v. Craft, 372 S.C. 1, 18, 640 S.E.2d 486, 495 (Ct. App. 2006).

         "When reviewing a motion for directed verdict or JNOV, an appellate court must employ the same standard as the trial court." Id. "Motions for directed verdict or JNOV should be denied if the evidence yields more than one reasonable inference or its inference is in doubt." Allegro, Inc. v. Scully, 418 S.C. 24, 32, 791 S.E.2d 140, 144 (2016) (citations omitted). "An appellate court will reverse the trial court's ruling only if no evidence supports the ruling below." Id.

The denial of a motion for a new trial absolute or a new trial nisi for excessiveness of the verdict is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial judge. The appellate court has no power to review his ruling unless it is wholly unsupported by the evidence or is controlled by an error of law.

Soaper v. Hope Indus., Inc., 306 S.C. 531, 534, 413 S.E.2d 38, 40 (Ct. App. 1992), aff'd as modified, 309 S.C. 438, 424 S.E.2d 493 (1992) (citations omitted).

         LAW/ANALYSIS

         Byrd argues the trial court erred in not finding the obstetric emergency exception is inapplicable to this case as a matter of law. The obstetric emergency exception is contained in section 15-32-230 of ...


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