Decision Date14 February 2005
Docket NumberNo. 25939.,25939.
Citation363 S.C. 19,609 S.E.2d 506
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesVergie W. FIELDS, individually and as the personal representative of Thomas Edison Fields, deceased, Respondent, v. REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER ORANGEBURG South Carolina and F. Simons Hane, M.D., Defendants, Of whom F. Simons Hane, M.D. is Petitioner.

Andrew F. Lindemann, of Davidson, Morrison and Lindemann, P.A., of Columbia, and Julius W. McKay, II, of McKay, McKay, Settana & Addison, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

J. Marvin Mullis, Jr., of Mullis Law Firm, of Columbia, for Respondent.

Justice BURNETT:

We granted the petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' opinion in Fields v. Regional Medical Center Orangeburg, 354 S.C. 445, 581 S.E.2d 489 (Ct.App.2003). We affirm in part and reverse in part.


Vergie Fields (Plaintiff) brought this wrongful death action against Physician and Regional Medical Center Orangeburg (RMC), alleging negligence and medical malpractice in failing to diagnose a heart condition suffered by her husband, Thomas Edison Fields (Decedent), and admit him to RMC. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict for Physician and RMC and granted Plaintiff a new trial.1

Plaintiff took Decedent, age 49, to RMC's emergency room when he began suffering chest pain which radiated into both arms on the afternoon of September 14, 1994. Decedent was examined, his history and past records were reviewed, he was placed on a heart monitor, and an electrocardiogram (EKG) test of his heart revealed no abnormalities. Decedent suffered from previously diagnosed conditions of chronic back pain, caused by a 1976 employment-related injury which left him totally disabled, and a hiatal hernia and gastrointestinal reflux. Decedent was given medication to relieve pain, told to follow up with his physician and sent home.

Plaintiff again took Decedent to RMC's emergency room at about 3 a.m. on September 18, 1994, after he awoke with severe chest pain radiating into both arms. Physician, who was on duty in the emergency room, testified he examined Decedent and reviewed past records which showed Decedent's history as a smoker, complaints of chest pain in past years, and past hospital admissions for mental health issues. Physician reviewed previous EKG and heart test results, including a heart catheterization in 1993 and the visit four days earlier, none of which revealed any heart condition.

Physician testified he placed Decedent on a heart monitor and performed an EKG which showed no abnormalities. Decedent stated his chest pain was similar to past instances, but worse. He was crying and upset. Physician gave Decedent the same pain medications he had received previously for the hiatal hernia and reflux, conditions which also may cause chest pain. Physician diagnosed Decedent with histrionics2 and chronic pain, told him to follow up with his doctor, and discharged him at 3:50 a.m. Physician denied his diagnosis was substantially affected by an emergency room nurse who told him Decedent, her uncle, was "crazy" and possibly seeking drugs, but instead was based primarily on Decedent's medical history, the current exam and normal EKG test.

Plaintiff testified Decedent's chest pains worsened after leaving RMC and she drove her husband to a Columbia hospital. There, Decedent suffered a documented heart attack about an hour after leaving RMC. Decedent was transferred to another Columbia hospital the same day, where he underwent an emergency heart catheterization. Decedent died after his right coronary artery was dissected during the operation, which is a known risk of the procedure. An autopsy revealed Decedent suffered from severe coronary artery disease.

Plaintiff alleged that, had Physician properly diagnosed Decedent with potential coronary artery disease and realized a heart attack might be imminent, Decedent would have been admitted to RMC, probably would have been given thrombolytic ("clot-busting") medications when he suffered his heart attack, and would not have undergone the emergency procedure which resulted in his death. Plaintiff presented evidence, including the testimony of two expert witnesses, of Physician's medical malpractice in failing to have Decedent examined by a heart specialist and admitted to RMC; in failing to adequately investigate and consider Decedent's medical and family history and past episodes of similar chest pain; in failing to perform additional tests and monitoring; and in concluding Decedent was simply hysterical or exaggerating his symptoms.

Physician contended his examination and treatment of Decedent met the requisite standard of care. Physician and his expert in emergency medicine testified Physician adequately reviewed Decedent's medical history, which included several instances in which Decedent had complained of chest pain and undergone heart-related tests which did not reveal any heart disease or impairment. Physician presented evidence Decedent had suffered from a variety of physical and psychiatric ailments and made numerous trips to RMC's emergency room. Physician also presented the testimony of Decedent's regular physician, his psychiatrist, and the cardiologist who performed the 1993 heart catheterization which revealed no significant abnormalities.

I. Did the Court of Appeals err in denying Physician's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's appeal as untimely?
II. Did the Court of Appeals err in reversing the jury's verdict based on the trial court's exclusion of testimony regarding the qualifications of Plaintiff's expert witness?
III. Did the Court of Appeals err in reversing the jury's verdict based on the trial court's refusal to allow Plaintiff to use a medical treatise to cross-examine Physician?

Qualification of an expert and the admission or exclusion of his testimony is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court. Similarly, the admission or exclusion of evidence in general is within the sound discretion of the trial court. In both instances, the trial court's decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. Pike v. S.C. Dept. of Transp., 343 S.C. 224, 234, 540 S.E.2d 87, 92 (2000); Gooding v. St. Francis Xavier Hosp., 326 S.C. 248, 252, 487 S.E.2d 596, 598 (1997); Means v. Gates, 348 S.C. 161, 166, 558 S.E.2d 921, 923 (Ct.App.2001). An abuse of discretion occurs when the ruling is based on an error of law or a factual conclusion that is without evidentiary support. Carlyle v. Tuomey Hosp., 305 S.C. 187, 193, 407 S.E.2d 630, 633 (1991); Fontaine v. Peitz, 291 S.C. 536, 538, 354 S.E.2d 565, 566 (1987). A trial court's ruling on the admissibility of an expert's testimony constitutes an abuse of discretion when the ruling is manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair. Means, 348 S.C. at 166,558 S.E.2d at 924.

To warrant reversal based on the admission or exclusion of evidence, the appellant must prove both the error of the ruling and the resulting prejudice, i.e., that there is a reasonable probability the jury's verdict was influenced by the challenged evidence or the lack thereof. Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 156, 485 S.E.2d 903, 911 (1997); Timmons v. S.C. Tricentennial Commn., 254 S.C. 378, 405, 175 S.E.2d 805, 819 (1970); Powers v. Temple, 250 S.C. 149, 160, 156 S.E.2d 759, 764 (1967).


Physician contends the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider Plaintiff's appeal because Plaintiff failed to timely serve the notice of appeal on the opposing parties. We disagree.

At the end of the trial on March 30, 2000, Plaintiff requested ten days to file a new trial motion, as provided in Rule 59(b), SCRCP. The trial judge denied the request, stating he would prefer to consider any motions immediately while the case and issues were still fresh in his mind. Plaintiff then asserted, in a one-sentence statement, that the trial court's previous evidentiary rulings constituted reversible error. The trial judge denied the oral motion.

Seven days later, Plaintiff filed a written motion for a new trial, citing Rule 59, SCRCP. Plaintiff asserted that, inter alia, the trial judge erred in excluding testimony about her expert witness's qualifications on the ground of hearsay, and in refusing to allow Plaintiff to use a medical treatise to cross-examine Physician on the ground the treatise had not been listed by Plaintiff in discovery responses. The trial judge denied Plaintiff's post-trial motion July 14, 2000, after a hearing. Plaintiff filed and served a notice of appeal August 8, 2000.

Physician filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction after the Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing the jury's verdict. The Court of Appeals denied the motion.

Physician contends, as he did to the Court of Appeals, that the trial judge denied Plaintiff's request to file a written new trial motion. Thus, Plaintiff's written new trial motion, which followed the oral new trial motion made at the end of the trial, was an improper successive motion akin to those condemned in Quality Trailer Products, Inc. v. CSL Equipment Co., 349 S.C. 216, 562 S.E.2d 615 (2002) and Collins Music Co. v. IGT, 353 S.C. 559, 579 S.E.2d 524 (Ct.App.2002). Physician further contends the written motion cannot be viewed as a Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration because it raised issues not previously ruled upon by the trial court. Physician argues the improper successive motion did not toll the time to appeal, making Plaintiff's notice of appeal untimely and depriving the appellate court of jurisdiction. See Mears v. Mears, 287 S.C. 168, 337 S.E.2d 206 (1985); Rule 203(b)(1), SCACR.

We conclude Plaintiff's written motion is properly viewed as a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e), SCRCP to the extent it addressed the trial court's evidentiary rulings...

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