King v. Williams

Decision Date22 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 21499,21499
Citation276 S.C. 478,279 S.E.2d 618
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesJoe D. KING, Respondent, v. Eston E. WILLIAMS, Jr., Appellant.

Burroughs, Green & Sasser, Conway, for appellant.

Stevens, Stevens & Thomas, Loris, and Blatt, Fales, Bedingfield, Poole, Motley & Richardson, Barnwell, for respondent.

LITTLEJOHN, Justice:

Defendant Eston E. Williams, Jr., a general practitioner of medicine at Loris, South Carolina, appeals the jury verdict of $40,000 actual damages against him for his negligent diagnosis and treatment of plaintiff Joe D. King. We affirm.

In February, 1974, King suffered various scrapes, bruises and injuries after losing control of his vehicle and hitting several trees. The following day he entered Loris Community Hospital where he was examined and treated by Dr. Williams.

Among other injuries, King suffered a painful and swollen left foot. Dr. Williams ordered x-rays of only the ankle region and personally observed and manipulated the foot. Based upon his reading of the x-rays, as well as the report of the radiologist, Dr. Williams diagnosed and treated the injury as a severe ankle sprain; he expected the pain and swelling to subside in about one month. King was released in early March and allowed to walk on the foot using a walking cast.

When the cast was removed in late March, the foot remained swollen and blue. Dr. Williams considered this condition to be normal and continued the same treatment. Over the next nine months, the foot did not heal; instead, King suffered ongoing agony, discomfort, and inconvenience from the extreme pain in his foot. Additional x-rays of the ankle region were ordered and read by Dr. Williams during this interval, but his evaluation and treatment remained unchanged. Continued pain medication was prescribed in addition to the use of an ace bandage and arch support.

In January, 1975, at the insistence of King and his wife, Dr. Williams referred King to orthopedic specialists in Myrtle Beach and Columbia. The specialists x-rayed the entire foot, including areas other than the ankle. Each diagnosed a fracture-dislocation of the foot, and corrective surgery was subsequently performed in June, 1975. King suffered a 30% disability.

At trial, Dr. Harry Rein of Orlando, Florida, testified on King's behalf, over objections, to the following:

1. that the injury to King's foot was a common one treated similarly by all physicians throughout the country;

2. that he was generally familiar with the standard of medical care in Loris, S. C.; and

3. that Dr. Williams failed to meet the standard of care in Loris or similar localities in his diagnosis and treatment of King's foot (e.g., failure to order proper x-rays or diagnose the injury; failure to consult other physicians; failure to earlier refer the patient to a specialist).

On appeal, Dr. Williams challenges the admission into evidence of (1) the testimony of Dr. Rein, and (2) purported x-rays of King's foot, and contends that without this evidence there was insufficient competent evidence from which a jury could find any negligence on his part.

We first address the issue of whether Dr. Rein, a Florida physician, was qualified to pass judgment on the degree of skill exercised by Dr. Williams, a physician in Loris. By our previous decisions, a physician has been held to a degree of skill and learning which is ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of his profession in good standing in the same general neighborhood or in similar localities. Bessinger v. DeLoach, 230 S.C. 1, 94 S.E.2d 3 (1956). Accordingly, a medical expert has been required to initially establish his competency to testify by showing his familiarity with the degree of skill exercised in the locality of the defendant physician or similar localities. 70 C.J.S. Physicians and Surgeons § 62(d)(2). The rationale underlying this "locality" rule has been that the education, training, equipment, facilities, libraries, contacts, and opportunities for learning vary among regions, as, for example, between a country doctor and a city doctor. Small v. Howard, 128 Mass. 131, 35 Am.Rep. 363 (1880). However, this logic has gradually deteriorated with the advance of required higher education, wide dissemination of medical information, and increased access to updated medical facilities. See Annot. 37 A.L.R.3d 420 (1971); William L. Prosser, Law of Torts (4th ed. 1971) at § 32.

The "locality" rule has been criticized also for creating practical difficulties, including a scarcity of local physicians willing to testify on the plaintiffs' behalf, and permitting a local standard of care below that which patients are entitled to expect. See 22 S.C.L.Rev. 810 (1970).

Recognizing the changed circumstances in the medical profession and the very real practical problems existing, courts in an ever-increasing number of jurisdictions have liberalized the "locality" restriction or removed it entirely. See Shier v. Freedman, 58 Wis.2d 269, 206 N.W.2d 166 (1973). Having reconsidered and examined the viability of the "locality" rule in South Carolina today, we hereby discard this rule and adopt a standard of care not bound by any geographical restrictions. More specifically, w...

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37 cases
  • Hook v. Rothstein
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • April 16, 1984
    ...that local practice is but one factor to be considered in determining the degree of care required of a physician. See King v. Williams, 276 S.C. 478, 279 S.E.2d 618 (1981).4 The trial judge instructed the jury as follows:The doctrine of informed consent is based on the general principle tha......
  • Phillips v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • December 7, 1981
    ...United States, 248 F.Supp. 732 (D.S.C.1966); Green v. Lilliewood, 272 S.C. 186, 249 S.E.2d 910 (1978). However, in King v. Williams, 276 S.C. 478, 279 S.E.2d 618 (S.C.1981), the South Carolina Supreme Court "discarded this rule and adopted a standard of care not bound by any geographical re......
  • Logan v. Greenwich Hosp. Ass'n
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • September 6, 1983
    ...102, 109, 235 N.E.2d 793 (1968); Pharmaseal Laboratories, Inc. v. Goffe, 90 N.M. 753, 758, 568 P.2d 589 (1977); King v. Williams, 276 S.C. 478, 279 S.E.2d 618, 620 (1981); Pederson v. Dumouchel, 72 Wash.2d 73, 79, 431 P.2d 973 (1967); Shier v. Freedman, 58 Wis.2d 269, 283-84, 206 N.W.2d 166......
  • Langley v. Boyter
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • January 26, 1984
    ...on doctrine of contributory negligence was improper where charge referred to "grades" of negligence).17 See, e.g., King v. Williams, 276 S.C. 478, 279 S.E.2d 618 (1981) (abolished "locality rule" in medical malpractice cases); Elam v. Elam, 275 S.C. 132, 268 S.E.2d 109 (1980) (abolished doc......
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