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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SC Supreme Court holds that what a jury might do is irrelevant to summary judgment analysis.

by Kirsten E. Small

Earlier this month, the South Carolina held that the Court of Appeals improperly applied a jury-focused standard in reviewing a grant of summary judgment by the circuit court. Hoard v. Roper Hospital, Inc. (S.C. May 3, 2010).

Neonatologist Marshall Goldstein directed the placement of an umbilical vein catheter (UVC) as part of his treatment of newborn Jamia Hoard for respiratory distress. One risk of a UVC is that it will be improperly placed, piercing the right atrium. Radiologist Robert Smith reviewed an x-ray and noted in his report that the catheter had pierced Jamia's atrium. Aware of this information, Dr. Goldstein decided not to reposition the catheter. As a result of the improper placement of the UVC, Jamia suffered a cardiac arrest that resulted in significant brain damage.

All defendants except Dr. Smith settled. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Dr. Smith, concluding that even if Dr. Smith was negligent, Dr. Goldstein's decision not to adjust the UVC was an intervening and independent proximate cause of the injury. This conclusion was based in large part upon Dr. Goldstein's deposition testimony regarding his decision not to adjust the UVC, which was uncontradicted by any other record evidence.

The Court of Appeals reversed on the basis of the established rule that a jury is not required to accept even uncontroverted testimony. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, noting that while a jury may reject uncontroverted testimony at trial, this rule does not apply on summary judgment, where the burden rests on the plaintiff to "affirmatively demonstrat[e] the presence of a genuine issue of material fact." It was therefore irrelevant, and counter to the very purpose of summary judgment, to consider how a jury might view the evidence.


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