The medical malpractice case of Dubose v. Quinlan reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently. The court was tasked with determining if the plaintiff’s survival action had been brought in a time-frame that was proper based on state law. The Superior Court had ruled prior that the two-year period in which to file a suit was rightfully extended based on the provisions in the state’s Medical Care Availability & Reduction of Error Act (MCARE).
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling that survival actions may extend until two years following death. The judgment provided $125,000 for a claim of wrongful death and $1 million for a survival claim against the defendants. The judges in the majority found that the statute allows for survival actions in such cases of liability to begin accruing upon death as detailed in Section 513.
In 2005, Elise Dubose had fallen in her home and suffered injuries to her head and incurred brain damage. She was brought to Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia initially and then was transferred to Einstein’s Willowcrest Nursing Facility, which is a skilled nursing care and rehab facility. She was diagnosed as having diabetes, respiratory problems requiring a ventilator, pulmonary disease and bedsores on her skin. Her doctor ordered a special type of bed and that she is repositioned frequently.
The staff at the facility allegedly demonstrated negligence by not complying with these orders which exacerbated her problems with bedsores (pressure ulcers). It was also alleged that Ms. Dubose was not properly nourished or hydrated. One bedsore located near her spine formed an infection leading to sepsis, where bacteria entered the bloodstream through the wound. Mrs. Dubose died shortly thereafter from complications associated with her infection.
The administrator of her estate, Robert Dubose, filed a suit against Willowcrest and Albert Einstein Health Care in 2009. The initial case went to a jury trial and ended as a mistrial. The next year, a second trial ended with the plaintiff prevailing. In addition to being awarded the $1.125 million, the jury levied $875,000 in punitive damages against the defendants. Despite defense challenges, the court found that the plaintiff had brought the claim within the statute of limitations.
Justice Max Baer did file a dissenting opinion about the court’s reasoning. He said the limitation for a claim of negligence against a medical practitioner begins when the action occurred (time of injury). He and the defense both believed that the time limit should have begun in 2005 when the negligence which ultimately led to her death in 2007 occurred.
In addition to a statute of limitations, Pennsylvania also has statute 1303.513, a statute of repose, that says no claim against a provider for medical liability may be brought after seven years from the date when the tort occurred, except for in two situations. The first is when an object is accidentally left within a patient’s body. The other applies to actions based on an injury to a minor, which may extend until the minor is 20-years-old.
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