In most medical malpractice cases, once the statute of limitations passes, the injury victim may lose their ability to get compensation. However, there are a number of exceptions that can shorten or extend the time limit to file a medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania.
Equitable Estoppel in California Plastic Surgery Malpractice Case
An appeals court in California reinstated a $6.3 million jury verdict that was dismissed as time-barred for being filed after the statute of limitations expired. The lawsuit was filed after the statute of limitations but the appeals court ruled that equitable estoppel allowed for a later filing of the claim.
In Jane Doe v. Timothy Marten, Plaintiff Jane Doe sued defendant doctor Timothy Marten for damages sustained after he performed plastic surgery on her face and neck. The plaintiff was unhappy with the results of the surgery and after her final follow-up visit, she notified the doctor she was considering a legal claim for damages.
Jane Doe had a copy of an arbitration agreement she believed was from Dr. Marten. Within 8 months of her final treatment, Jane Doe’s lawyer served a written demand for arbitration, as per the agreement. Dr. Marten’s attorney responded by making a request for an arbitrator to handle the case. After years of discovery and back-and-forth requests for documents and information, and depositions, Dr. Marten claimed the signature on the arbitration agreement was not his and he was not going to proceed with arbitration.
Jane Doe then filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in court. After a jury trial, the jury found in favor of Jane Doe and awarded her $3,676,780 for past and future economic losses and $3,000,000 for past and future non-economic losses. The plaintiff was also found to be 5% contributorily negligent. However, the judge found that the claim was filed beyond the statute of limitations and dismissed the case.
On appeal, the appellate court found that, “in the statute of limitations context, equitable estoppel may be appropriate where the defendant’s act or omission actually and reasonably induced the plaintiff to refrain from filing a timely suit.”
In this case, the court found that the plaintiff did not file a lawsuit because she relied on the representation that the defendant had signed the arbitration agreement when it was actually from another doctor. The defendant “responded to plaintiff’s arbitration demand in a manner so as to induce plaintiff to reasonably and in good faith proceed with arbitration instead of filing a legal action.”
Additionally, one of the purposes of a statute of limitations is to protect a defendant against prosecution of stale claims. In this case, the plaintiff notified the defendant in writing that she was considering suing him and expressly demanded that he preserve all documents and paper and electronic files relating to her care less than a year from the treatment. The plaintiff also made the arbitration demand within a year of her surgery,
Importance of the Statute of Limitations for Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Claims
The statute of limitations can mean the difference between recovering millions of dollars or getting nothing. The timing of the procedure, injury, and discovery of the malpractice can all have a bearing on when a personal injury claim has to be filed.
There is a 2-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania. The injury victim generally has 2-years from the date of the accident or injury to file a lawsuit. However, there may be exceptions that will allow you to pursue a claim after the statute of limitations, depending on the specifics of your case.
Philadelphia Malpractice Lawyers
If you or a loved one suffered an injury caused by medical treatment, it’s critical to speak with a medical malpractice attorney who has experience with cases involving medical negligence. To discuss your case with a member of our legal team, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today.
About the Author