The South Carolina Supreme Court held in its opinion filed on June 27, 2018 that a genetic testing laboratory that performs genetic testing to detect an existing disease or disorder at the request of a patient’s treating physician is acting as a “licensed health care provider” under S.C. Code Ann. § 38-79-410.
The South Carolina Supreme Court was asked to address the issue in a wrongful death action arising from the death of a minor who was experiencing seizures. The child’s treating physician sent the child’s DNA to the genetic testing laboratory of defendant Quest Diagnostics, Inc. (“Quest”) for the purpose of diagnosing the child’s disease or disorder. The South Carolina wrongful death action alleged the genetic testing laboratory failed to properly determine the child’s condition, resulting in the child’s death.
Quest asserted that its genetic testing laboratory is a “licensed health care provider” pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 38-79-410 (2015) and that the plaintiffs’ claims concern medical malpractice, thereby rendering the medical malpractice statute of repose applicable. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-545 (2005).
The South Carolina Supreme Court was only asked to address the following question certified by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: Is a federally licensed genetic testing laboratory acting as a “licensed health care provider” as defined by S.C. Code Ann. § 38-79-410 when, at the request of a patient’s treating physician, the laboratory performs genetic testing to detect an existing disease or disorder?” The South Carolina Supreme Court was not asked to determine the nature of the plaintiffs’ claims (whether medical malpractice or ordinary negligence) or the applicability of the medical malpractice statute of repose.
S.C. Code Ann. § 38-79-410
Section 38-79-410 states, “‘[l]icensed health care providers’ means physicians and surgeons; directors, officers, and trustees of hospitals; nurses; oral surgeons; dentists; pharmacists; chiropractors; optometrists; podiatrists; hospitals; nursing homes; or any similar category of licensed health care providers.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court held that a genetic testing laboratory that performs testing at the request of a patient’s treating physician for the purpose of assisting the treating physician in detecting an existing disease or disorder falls within the definition of “licensed health care providers” – the genetic testing laboratory is performing diagnostic testing at the request of a treating physician for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment, which is a core function of hospitals in diagnosing and treating patients.
The South Carolina Supreme Court also cited S.C. Code Ann. § 38-71-1920(7), (11), (12) (2015), which provides the definition of a health care provider as “an institution providing health care services”—”for the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, cure, or relief of a health condition, illness, injury, or disease”—”including, but not limited to, hospitals and . . . diagnostic, laboratory, and imaging centers.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded “that a genetic testing laboratory in these circumstances clearly falls within section 38-79-410’s catchall of ‘any similar category of licensed health care providers.'”
Source Williams v. Quest Diagnostics, Inc., Opinion No. 27818.
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