If your child is suffering from developmental delays, you could have a legal right to be compensated by the person or the people who are ultimately responsible for your child's condition. However, in the U.S., there are statutes of limitations that force you to uphold those legal rights within a certain time period. If you do not abide by the requirements of the applicable statute of limitations, then you will not be able to successfully enforce your rights, no matter how badly they were violated.
The statute of limitations that applies to your child's developmental delays is somewhat complex, and will take the skill and experience of the medical malpractice attorneys at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian to understand.
How the Statute of Limitations Works and Why It Exists
Whenever a personal injury happens, the victim has legal rights to compensation from the person or the parties who caused the injury. However, the evidence that proves that these legal rights exist is not set in stone. It often exists in the minds of the people who saw the injury happen or who know important details about what happened, or in documents that can get lost or accidentally thrown away. Waiting a long time to file a lawsuit to enforce your legal rights can lead to a situation where no one clearly remembers what happened because it was so long ago.
The statute of limitations exists to prevent this dilemma from happening. By giving you a small window to file the lawsuit--often only a couple of years after the injury occurred--the law ensures that evidence will be fresh in people's minds and easily accessible.
Some Statutes of Limitations Can Be Unfair
The window of the statute of limitations can make certain types of lawsuits unfair. For example, not all injuries are apparent immediately after they happen. Some can remain latent for years or even decades after they happen, like certain kinds of cancers or diseases that do not show up for years after the victim has been exposed to their cause.
One such situation is a developmental delay in children. The full impact on a child might not be apparent until years after the injury or condition that caused it. Because this would be unfair, and because the victim of this unfairness is a child, the state of Pennsylvania has carved out an exception to its statutes of limitations for injuries that happen to minors under the age of 18.
Pennsylvania's Statute of Limitations and Its Minor Tolling Statute
Typically, lawsuits that are for personal injuries (including those for injuries suffered as a result of medical malpractice) in Pennsylvania fall under the statute of limitations embodied at 42 § 5524(2). This statute of limitation requires lawsuits to be filed within two years of the injury's occurrence.
In the context of developmental delays, however, this two-year window to file a lawsuit for compensation is incredibly unfair. Many developmental delays do not become apparent for at least a year after a child's birth, and there is frequently no way to detect them beforehand. Therefore, if the two-year statute of limitations is adhered to, children who suffer from developmental delays because of a condition that was ultimately caused by someone else's negligence would have legal rights to compensation, but no practical way to enforce those rights because of the tight window in which they can file a lawsuit.
In order to protect the ability of children to get compensation for their lifelong injuries, the law of Pennsylvania makes an important distinction for them in its statutes of limitations. This distinction, often called a minor tolling statute, is embodied in the law at 42 § 5533(b) and says: “If an individual entitled to bring a civil action is an unemancipated minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the period of minority shall not be deemed a portion of the time period within which the action must be commenced. Such person shall have the same time for commencing an action after attaining majority as is allowed to others…”
Minor tolling statutes work a technicality in the law to ensure that children get the compensation they need and that the interests of justice will bend over backward to give them. Instead of giving children a different set of limitations statutes, minor tolling statutes merely refuse to count the years that pass before the child becomes an adult for the statute of limitations.
This means that the requirements of the statute of limitations do not apply to children under the age of 18 who have suffered developmental delays from the negligence of a doctor or other medical professional, and who would be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit. Instead of only having two years from the time of their injury to file a lawsuit, the minor tolling statute gives these children two years from the time they turn 18 to file the lawsuit.
As a result, the statute of limitations that most children have for developmental delays typically prevents them from initiating a lawsuit only after they turn 20 years old.
The Impact of the Statute of Limitations for Developmental Delays
The minor tolling statute's impact on Pennsylvania's typical statute of limitations for personal injury and medical malpractice claims is a huge boon for children in the state who suffer from developmental delays. These delays are frequently the result of birth injuries or instances of medical malpractice, making their source the negligence of a doctor or other health professional. Those who were responsible for a child's developmental delay, therefore, can and should owe the victim of their negligence the compensation they need to live a full life.
The Philadelphia personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at the law offices of Gilman & Bedigian strive to legally represent innocent victims in court to get them the financial help they need to make the recovery they deserve. Contact us online if your child has suffered developmental delays in the state of Pennsylvania.