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What Are the Medical Malpractice Laws in Pennsylvania?

If you are injured because of a mistake made by a doctor, you may not be thinking about how the court rules of Pennsylvania will affect your case. The reality is that every state is very different in how it handles civil lawsuits, like personal injury, defective products, car accidents, and medical malpractice. Your legal rights may be very different if you get treated at a hospital in Philadelphia compared to crossing the bridge and getting care in Camden. 

Medical malpractice laws are different in every state. This can impact how long you have to file a claim, how much you can recover in damages, and from whom you can recover compensation. This page provides an overview of the medical malpractice laws in Pennsylvania. However, every medical malpractice case is different. 

If you want to know about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Philadelphia or anywhere in Pennsylvania,  it is important to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney who understands your state and local laws. The trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have years of experience dealing with medical malpractice cases in Philadelphia and across the Keystone State. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Cases

A medical malpractice case is a lawsuit involving a doctor or healthcare professional who is professionally negligent in providing medical care. For a medical malpractice lawsuit to win, the injury victim has to show the doctor breached the standard of medical care. The standard of care involves the medical community’s generally accepted medical practices. These medical standards are based on experience, education, training, scientific updates, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and other factors. 

When a doctor deviates from standards of medical care and it causes injury to the patient, the doctor can be held legally responsible for any damages. How is a jury supposed to know when a doctor deviated from the standard of care? In medical malpractice cases, medical experts are generally required to help the jury understand how doctors would normally approach a similar situation. 

What would a reasonable doctor do under the circumstances? If the doctor in your case did something different (or failed to act altogether), and that was an actual and proximate cause of the injury, the medical expert can testify to the jury that they believe the doctor was responsible for the patient’s injuries. Ultimately, it is up to the jury to decide if they find in favor of the injury victim or the negligent doctor.  

What Are Types of Medical Malpractice Cases

Anytime a doctor is involved in the medical care of a patient, there is a risk of the doctor making a mistake. Some mistakes are minor, and may not cause any serious harm. However, other medical errors are much more serious and can cause permanent damage, including disability, chronic pain, loss of function, disfigurement, or even death. 

Some examples of serious medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania can include: 

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

The legal process for a medical malpractice case can take much longer than other personal injury claims. One reason is that the stakes can be much higher in a malpractice case. For example, a car accident claim involving vehicle damage and injuries may amount to $10,000 or so. However, a medical malpractice error that causes permanent dysfunction could leave the victim with more than $100,000 in future expenses, losses, and costs. 

A malpractice case first starts when the injury victim contacts an experienced medical malpractice law firm for a consultation. After the trial attorneys review the case and see that there is a potential claim, they begin with an initial investigation. This can include reviewing the patient’s medical records, looking at the history of the doctors involved and their prior malpractice lawsuits, and getting a medical expert to review the evidence. 

The lawsuit begins with filing a complaint in court. The complaint lays out the basis of your claim, including the parties involved, the alleged malpractice, and a demand for damages. The other parties involved (doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance companies, etc.), respond with an “answer.” These are the initial pleadings and they can be amended and updated as the case goes on. 

Expert Witness Review and Certificate of Merit

One area where medical malpractice cases are not like other personal injury claims is that they require additional support from a medical expert. Pennsylvania and other states have made it harder for injury victims of medical malpractice claims to recover damages than other types of cases. This is known as  a “heightened pleading standard.” Basically, you have to go above and beyond to show the doctor may have been negligent to even get your lawsuit through the courthouse doors. 

Under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1042.3, in any lawsuit where the injury victim alleges a medical professional deviated from the accepted professional standards, the plaintiff’s attorney has to file, within 60 days of the complaint, a certificate of merit signed by the attorney or party. One way to meet this standard is to get a medical professional to provide:  

  • A  written statement that there is a reasonable probability the doctor’s treatment fell outside acceptable professional standards and that it caused the patient’s injuries. 

If you have questions about medical experts and the certificate of merit requirement, talk to your Philadelphia medical malpractice team. Yes, it may seem unfair that medical injury victims have to go above and beyond to have their case heard in court but the medical lobby is powerful and they have convinced lawmakers to make it more difficult for victims of Pennsylvania medical malpractice cases to get their day in court. 

Gathering Facts and Evidence

The next stage is known as “discovery.” This is where all parties exchange information. Discovery in a medical malpractice lawsuit can be very extensive, especially when it involves a lot of medical care over a long period of time. Medical records alone in a medical malpractice case can amount to hundreds of thousands of pages. 

Relevant evidence in a malpractice case is any evidence that has a tendency to make the existence of any fact of consequence more or less probable. This can include showing the people involved, the cause of the injury, response to the medical errors, and damages. Evidence can include

  • Medical records
  • Hospital records
  • Personnel records
  • Hospital policies and regulations
  • Work records
  • Paystubs
  • Psychological records
  • Informed consent records
  • Prescriptions
  • Diagnostic test results

Discovery also includes getting answers to questions and interview questions with the parties involved (depositions). As the injury victim, you will generally have to participate in a deposition, where the lawyers from the insurance companies will ask you questions about the case. Don’t worry. Your attorney will help you prepare for this process so you will know what to expect. 

Settlement or Prepare for Trial

As the evidence comes together to present a fuller picture of what happened, the case may get closer to settlement. A lawsuit can be settled at any time, even before the complaint is filed. However, settlement becomes more likely the closer it gets to trial. At this point, all parties have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Your attorney can give you an idea of what they expect your case to be worth, so you can decide if you’re ready to accept a settlement or take your case to trial. 

If the malpractice insurance companies don’t want to offer you a fair amount to settle the case, you can continue to trial. Your attorney will present your case and the defendants will present theirs. Finally, after instructions from the judge, the jury will decide if the doctor breached their duty of care and caused your injuries. The jury can then decide how much to award you in damages for your injuries. 

How Much Time to File a Malpractice Case in Pennsylvania

You only have a limited amount of time to file a malpractice case in Pennsylvania. The time limits are strict. If you had to file your lawsuit by Tuesday, September 19, 2023, at 5:00 p.m., and you got to the door at 5:01 p.m., you may be out of luck. One minute can mean the difference between recovering tens of thousands for your injuries and getting nothing. 

The time limit for filing a civil lawsuit is known as the statute of limitations. For most medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, the injury victim has 2 years from the date of the injury. Under Pennsylvania statute Chapter 55 § 5524, an action to recover damages for injuries caused by wrongful act or negligence must be commenced within 2 years. 

However, to make things more confusing, Pennsylvania also has a statute of repose. If you didn’t know about the injury and only discovered it later, you may have more time to file your claim. However, under Pennsylvania Code Title 40 §1303.513, “no cause of action asserting a medical professional liability claim may be commenced after seven years from the date of the alleged tort.”

There are two exceptions to the strict time limit, for minors and patients who had a foreign object left behind in their body. Minors who are injured by medical malpractice have up to 7 years to file a malpractice case, or up until their 20th birthday. 

Don’t rely on these exceptions or late discovery. It is important to act quickly. Contact a Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible after your injuries to make sure your case is filed in time. 

Is There a Limit on Damages in Pennsylvania?

The good news for malpractice victims and their families is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does NOT limit the amount of noneconomic damages. In fact, the Constitution of Pennsylvania prohibits unlawful caps on injury damages. 

Under Article III, Section 18 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, “in no [other than workers’ compensation] cases shall the General Assembly limit the amount to be recovered for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to persons or property.”

This means that in the medical malpractice case of a child who suffered a birth injury if a jury awarded $5 million in total damage, the family would get the award without the judge knocking off some money from the top. The family would get the money awarded by the jury of their peers, to provide the necessary medical care, support, and ensure the child was well cared for. After all, the child suffered an injury caused by negligent medical care, not through any fault of the families. It is only fair that the person who caused the damage be forced to pay. 

Unfortunately, people who live in other states don’t have the same protections. In more than half of U.S. states, the law limits the amount of certain types of medical malpractice damages, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. The effects on the family are even worse because the jury generally doesn’t know about the cap on damages. 

Using the case above as an example, a jury awarded the family $1 million in medical damages, and $4 million in noneconomic damages (total of $5 million). The state has a cap of $500,000 for noneconomic damages. The jury thinks they are awarding the family $5 million but the judge cuts it down to $1.5 million. It may sound like a lot of money but not when you consider the child will need care, supervision, housing, and medical care for the rest of their life. 

Pennsylvania Hospitals and Medical Centers

The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan area is one of the largest population areas in the U.S. There are more than a dozen major hospitals in the Philadelphia area, including some of the top teaching hospitals in the country. Some of the hospitals in the Philadelphia area include: 

The largest hospitals in Pennsylvania (by number of staffed beds) are Temple University Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The following information provides information on the location and number of beds for these hospitals:

Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Approximately 988 staffed beds
3400 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Temple University Hospital
Approximately 979 staffed beds
3401 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19140

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Approximately 926 staffed beds
111 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

How Can a Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Attorney Help?

If you want to know if you have a medical malpractice claim, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm for legal advice about your rights. A medical malpractice attorney can look at your case, review your health records, and help you understand the basics of Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims. With an experienced attorney on your side, you can recover the maximum damages for your injuries. Contact a law firm that handles Philadelphia medical malpractice cases like yours. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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