What is the Statute of Limitations on Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania?
Many people are aware that most states, including Pennsylvania, set a time limit on when your medical malpractice action must be brought by. This is known as a statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations encourages the timely settling of claims which increases certainty regarding liability for businesses and individuals. For medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, that time limit is two years. Pennsylvania allows delayed discovery, meaning victims can sue past the general deadline if they are unaware of their injuries for some time. To ensure you file before the deadline, confirm the cause of your injuries and access your medical records immediately after becoming aware of an act of medical malpractice in Pennsylvania.
For a free and confidential review of your case from our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys, call The Reiff Law Firm now at (215) 918-4622.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania?
Victims of medical malpractice in Pennsylvania are limited regarding how long they have to file a lawsuit for compensatory damages.
In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice suit must be filed within 2 years after the cause of action has accrued, according to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(2). This is the general rule for Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
However, emancipated minors are typically exempt from this requirement as their statute of limitations period is tolled, or ineffective, until their 18th birthday, according to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5533(b)(1) and held in W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys. v. Medical Care Availability & Reduction of Error Fund. Additional expectations to the statute of limitations can apply, however, these expectations are typically based on Pennsylvania’s discovery rule.
When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin to Accrue in Pennsylvania?
The statute of limitations is typically calculated using the date a victim sustained injuries or learned of injuries due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, an injured individual’s cause of action comes into existence when they could first have successfully brought that action, according to Kapil v. Association of Pa. State College and Univ. Faculties. This is known as the discovery rule. What this means is that the statute of limitation does not run until the potential plaintiff knows, or has reason to know, about their injury or condition. Our Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyers can go over your injuries and determine when the statute of limitations on your case began.
Therefore, the statute of limitations begins to run at the exact moment when the injury and cause of action become apparent, as held in Pocono International Raceway, Inc. v. Pocono Produce, Inc. and Ayers v. Morgan. If an action has accrued and could be brought successfully, but the potential plaintiff has failed to bring it within the statutorily defined time frame, the right to action is lost, and the party is barred from bringing a claim.
Because there is no longer a statute of repose in Pennsylvania, victims can now bring a case for medical malpractice more than seven years after the alleged act occurred if the discovery rule applies.
How the Discovery Rule Affects the Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Claims
As briefly discussed above, the discovery rule holds that the statute of limitations on certain medical malpractice cases begins to run on the date the patient discovers the malpractice. In many cases, the discovery rule allows medical malpractice plaintiffs to file claims many years after they received negligent medical care. Even so, there are limits on how far you can stretch out the statute of limitations using the discovery rule.
Medical malpractice is not always obvious to patients who might not have any medical knowledge, skills, or training. Additionally, many signs and symptoms of malpractice (e.g., pain, bleeding, infections) are confused with normal symptoms of treatment. For example, a patient who underwent surgery and is experiencing severe pain might assume their pain is from the surgical incision, not malpractice. Later that patient might discover that the surgeon left a sponge inside their body, which caused their pain.
The discovery rule is more common in surgical cases, particularly those involving foreign objects left inside patients’ bodies. Patients often do not realize the malpractice until they seek help from another doctor.
The discover rule is not without limits. One important detail many injured plaintiffs overlook is that the discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations until you discover or reasonably should have discovered the injury. If a patient knows they are in serious pain after being treated but refuses to seek further medical help, willful ignorance of their condition cannot be used to justify the discovery rule. However, if you do your due diligence to figure out what is wrong, the discovery rule might still help you even if many years have passed since your initial negligent treatment.
When You Should Speak to an Attorney About Your Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania
Call an attorney immediately if you believe that your doctor, nurses, or other medical professionals in charge of your treatment did not meet the standard of care. The statute of limitations allows you 2 years to file your case, but this is a far shorter timeframe than many realize.
Starting as soon as possible allows your attorney more time to prepare your case. Medical malpractice claims often take a long time to prepare, especially if the plaintiff’s medical condition or injuries are complicated. Starting as quickly as possible means you and your lawyer are less likely to lose valuable evidence.
Much evidence can be found by examining your injuries. Another doctor should evaluate you to determine if you received proper treatment. If you wait to speak to an attorney and get a second opinion about your injuries, those injuries might start to heal, and evidence of malpractice might be lost.
You and your attorney also need as much time as possible to assess your damages. For many medical malpractice plaintiffs, damages are still revealing themselves as time goes on. Perhaps your condition is worsening to the point that you might need extensive, long-term care. Maybe you are okay for now, but your injuries might prevent you from returning to work if they do not improve. The more time you have to prepare your case, the more accurately your attorney can assess damages.
What Do I Do if the Statute of Limitations on My Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania Expires?
It is not unusual for medical malpractice victims to try and file their claims after the statute of limitations has expired. Unfortunately, the discovery rule does not protect everyone, and potential plaintiffs need to find other ways to buy themselves more time. An attorney can review your situation and determine whether the statute of limitations can be tolled. While tolling is possible, it is only done under very specific circumstances.
As briefly described above, people injured from medical malpractice while younger than 18 are not necessarily bound by the standard statute of limitations. While the statute does eventually kick in, it does not do so until the minor plaintiff is 18 years old. As such, the 2-year statute of limitations typically extends the filing deadline to the minor’s 20th birthday.
The reason behind this rule is that minors and children cannot be expected to take legal action. Children are often unaware of their rights in these situations and do not know how to assess damages, obtain evidence, or file a lawsuit.
In the past, a statute of repose created a hard deadline of 7 years that included any time needed for tolling. For example, if a child is 10 years old when they are the victim of medical malpractice, it would be another 8 years before the statute of limitations begins to run. The statute of repose limited the total time to file to 7 years, cutting off the 10-year-old’s right to sue when they turn 18. The courts decided this was unconstitutional, and now there is no statute of repose.
You can also have the statute of limitations tolled if you have a disability that prevents you from filing the case yourself or understanding your rights. Disabilities for the purpose of tolling are not necessarily limited to physical impairments. Instead, disabilities tend to refer to issues with a person’s mental faculties that prevent them from understanding that they have been injured or that their rights have been violated. In many such cases, guardians might file the case on the plaintiff’s behalf. If not, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the disability ceases.
A big problem for many injured patients is fraudulent concealment. This occurs when doctors or other medical professionals actively try to stop the patient from discovering the malpractice. For example, a patient might be injured when a surgeon leaves a sponge inside their body, causing serious pain. The surgeon might realize the mistake quickly when one sponge is left unaccounted for after the procedure. However, they might refrain from telling the patient in the hopes that the patient will never realize the truth and file a lawsuit.
Fraudulent concealment often leads to patients going years without discovering that they are victims of medical malpractice. If you were unable to file your case before the deadline because of fraudulent concealment, our we can ask the court to allow you more time.
How to File a Medical Malpractice Claim within the Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania
When victims do not file a claim for medical malpractice within the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, they will be unable to recover damages against a negligent hospital or doctor. To prevent this from happening, it is important that victims take several steps following an instance of medical malpractice.
Get Confirmation of Your Injuries
Before proving that a medical professional’s negligence caused your injuries in a lawsuit, you must present documentation showing you have sustained injuries. Injuries due to medical malpractice can vary drastically. For example, if a victim’s medical condition was improperly diagnosed, their health might worsen dramatically over time. Being prescribed the wrong medication can have a similar result. Errors during surgery might cause physical injuries or internal damage to victims in Pennsylvania. Confirmation of damages is important, which is why victims should seek care from another medical professional or hospital trusted by our Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorneys as soon as they notice signs of discomfort or pain.
Request Your Medical Records
Victims of medical malpractice in Pennsylvania should request access to their medical records from the hospital whose negligence caused their injuries. Such records can help our Allentown medical malpractice lawyers understand the sequences of events leading up to negligence and determine whether or not the action taken by medical professionals was appropriate, considering your medical history and the symptoms you presented with at the time.
Get Expert Statements
Preparing a claim against a negligent doctor or hospital for medical malpractice can take some time. Before filing your lawsuit, our attorneys might call on assistance from medical experts. These individuals can provide helpful insight regarding the proper treatment for the injuries or condition you initially went to a doctor for and illuminate acts of negligence. Statements from medical experts can ultimately help you to prove fault in a claim for medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, and preparing this facet of your case early can allow you to file on time while readying your case for trial.
Can Filing a Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Claim Just Before the Deadline Impact Your Case?
Although victims will have several years to file a case for medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, it is not wise to wait that long. Even if you bring a claim before the deadline, your case could be negatively impacted if you delay suing.
Medical malpractice claims are typically most successful when victims sue immediately after becoming aware of their injuries. This can further legitimize a claim and allow victims to establish the cause of their injuries more easily.
Delaying bringing a claim against a negligent hospital or medical professional in Pennsylvania could appear as though your damages are not significant nor are related to a defendant’s actions. Gathering evidence of fault can also be more challenging the longer you wait to bring a case, as a negligent hospital or doctor might attempt to evade liability by offering up another version regarding the cause of your injuries in Pennsylvania.
File Your Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania