Patton v. MillerAnnotate this Case
A minor may bring an action for her own medical expenses if she the "real party in interest.” Alexia L. was born on April 5, 2007, delivered by obstetrician Gregory Miller, M.D. Alexia's mother, Angela Patton, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in November 2009 against Dr. Miller and the professional association where he practiced, Rock Hill Gynecological & Obstetrical Associates, P.A. Patton's theory of liability was that the defendant improperly managed the resolution of shoulder dystocia, and that such mismanagement caused permanent injury to Alexia's left-sided brachial plexus nerves. Patton sought damages for Alexia's pain and suffering, disability, loss of earning capacity, and other harm she contends resulted from this injury. Patton also sought damages for Alexia's medical expenses. Patton filed the lawsuit only in her capacity as Alexia's "next friend." In March 2012, Patton filed a separate medical malpractice lawsuit against Amisub of South Carolina, which owned and did business as Piedmont Medical Center. Patton did not make any claim in her individual capacity; the only claims she made were Alexia's claims, which she made in her representative capacity as Alexia's next friend. Defendants moved to dismiss based on Patton’s status as “next friend” to Alexia. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding Patton could recover for Alexia's medical expenses if she sued in her own capacity, but not as Alexia's representative. The court found "the minor plaintiff may not maintain a cause of action for [her medical] expenses in her own right." The South Carolina Supreme Court did “nothing more” than apply the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to Rule 17(c), "Whenever a minor . . . has a representative, . . . the representative may sue . . . on behalf of the minor . . . ." If a dispute arises as to whether that representative is "the real party in interest," Rule 17(a) governs the dispute. If the representative seeks to amend the complaint, Rules 15(a), 15(c), and 17(a) provide there should be no unnecessary dismissal, but rather the parties and the trial court should work to reach the merits. In this case, the circuit court failed to apply these Rules, and unnecessarily dismissed a claim it should have tried on the merits.