There is a time limit for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Pennsylvania. If you wait too long to file your claim, you may lose out on your chance to recover financial compensation. It may not be fair but the laws around medical malpractice lawsuits are strict. This is why it is important to reach out to an experienced medical malpractice team to make sure your case is filed in time.
There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations for medical injuries. However, medical malpractice law is complicated so you shouldn’t rely on any extra time without first talking to an attorney. Your medical malpractice lawyer can help you understand your legal options for recovering money after a medical error injury.
If you believe you or a loved one was injured because of medical malpractice, contact Gilman and Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations is the legal term for a time limit to file a lawsuit. Different types of lawsuits have different statutes of limitation. There are civil statutes of limitations and criminal statutes of limitations. For example, under Pennsylvania criminal law, there is a 5-year limit for filing burglary charges against someone but no time limit for murder charges.
Similarly, under Pennsylvania civil laws, many contract dispute claims have to be filed within 4 years from the date of the offense. Most other civil claims have a 2-year time limit, including:
- Civil assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, or malicious abuse of process.
- Injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.
The statute of limitations generally begins to run from the date the injury arises. For example, if you were injured by a surgical error during surgery on June 1, 2023, the statute of limitations would begin to run from June 1, 2023, and has to be filed within 2 years, or by June 1, 2025. However, there may be some exceptions that temporarily pause or toll the time limit.
Under Pennsylvania Code Title 52 § 1001.12, the day that the act or event happens is not included in the computation of time. For example, if an injury happened on July 1, 2020, the first date would be July 2, 2020. The last day is included. If the last day under the statute of limitations is a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, it will run until the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday.
It may not seem fair to the victim to put a time limit on filing a lawsuit but there are policy reasons why states have these legal time limits. The passage of time can make it more difficult to gather evidence for or defend against a lawsuit. Memories fade, evidence is lost or thrown away, and people move away. A time limit puts a priority on those who are actively pursuing their legal claims.
How Long Is the Statute of Limitations for Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Claims?
Under Pennsylvania medical malpractice laws, most medical practice claims have to be filed within 2 years of 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. This includes medical negligence or medical malpractice claims.
For example, a patient goes in for an outpatient eye surgery on February 1, 2022. When the patient comes out of surgery, they can no longer see. The doctor accidentally cut a vital eye nerve and the patient was permanently blinded. If the patient files a professional negligence lawsuit against the doctor, the patient would have to file the lawsuit by February 1, 2024.
What Is the Statute of Repose?
To make things more complicated, there is also a statute of repose. A statute of repose is another time limit for filing a civil lawsuit. Even if there is some exception to extend or toll the statute of limitations, the statute of repose puts an additional time limit. For Pennsylvania, the statute of repose in personal injury cases is 7 years.
For example, if the injury victim didn’t discover their injury after a medical procedure (with some exceptions) and they only found out after 8 years, the statute of limitations would begin to run, giving them an additional two years to file a lawsuit. However, under the statute of repose, the claim would be barred. Again, so that no one gets too comfortable with these time limits, there are exceptions.
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:
- Injuries caused by foreign objects: If the injury was caused by a foreign object unintentionally left in the individual’s body, the statute of repose does not apply.
- Injuries of minors: “No cause of action asserting a medical professional liability claim may be commenced by or on behalf of a minor after seven years from the date of the alleged tort or breach of contract or after the minor attains the age of 20 years, whichever is later.”
Are There Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania?
There are limited exceptions to the strict statute of limitations for personal injury and medical malpractice claims. The most common exceptions include minor injury victims and injuries discovered at a later date. Under certain situations, the statute of limitations is tolled or paused. The statute of limitations then begins to run again after some event, like a minor reaching age 18 or the injury victim discovering the injury.
Discovery Rule Tolling the Statute of Limitations
In most medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations begins to run when an injury is inflicted. However, the discovery rule is an exception and tolls the clock until a plaintiff could reasonably discover the injury. The discovery rule isn’t just for deciding whether the injury occurred but is based on when a person using reasonable diligence would have discovered the injury and that it was caused by another.
For example, a doctor made a mistake and the hospital sent a letter to the injury victim explaining the error and injury. The patient never got around to opening the letter and filed it away. Three years later, the patient found the letter and opened, it and filed a lawsuit. If the injury victim argued they should get more time to file because of a late discovery, the hospital would likely argue that it was too late. It may be up to a jury to decide if a reasonable person would have opened the letter instead of putting it away without ever reading it.
Child Victims of Medical Malpractice
Some of the most tragic medical malpractice claims involve children. Children often undergo medical procedures as approved by their parents based on medical advice. If a child suffers an injury caused by medical negligence, they can suffer pain, scarring, disfigurement, and require additional surgeries to repair the damage.
If there was no statute of limitations for minors, it would mean a 2-year-old who suffered an injury would have to file a lawsuit by age 4. Children often don’t understand the extent of their injuries, the cause of their injuries, or what it can mean for the future. Under the statute of limitations and statute of repose exceptions, the time limit is tolled until the child reaches the age of maturity, or after age 18. For most medical malpractice claims involving a minor, the minor has until age 20 to file a lawsuit.
For example, a 10-year-old child goes in for an appendectomy. During surgery, the doctor makes a mistake and punctures the child’s stomach. The child suffers serious infection and pain because of the doctor’s errors and requires follow-up surgery. Under the exceptions that toll the statute of limitations, the child would have until just before their 20th birthday to file a malpractice lawsuit.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Philadelphia Birth Injuries?
Birth injury claims also fall under the exception for minor injury victims. Birth injury victims generally have until before age 20 to file a claim. Many birth injuries may also fall under the discovery rule because it takes years before the cause and extent of the injury are understood. This is common in birth injuries involving a lack of oxygen to the baby during labor or delivery. When the oxygen is cut off to the baby before the child begins to breathe, it can cause serious damage.
Hypoxia and conditions like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), can cause brain damage and organ damage. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die, which causes permanent brain injury. Children with these and other common birth injuries may appear normal when they are born because it is difficult to assess brain injuries in newborns and infants.
Infant brain injuries may take years to become obvious to parents and healthcare providers. It often involves developmental delays. Developmental milestones provide general guidance for when children begin developing, including crawling, walking, and speaking. When children miss or never reach some of these milestones, they may be suffering developmental delays which indicate mental or physical disability, including those caused by birth injuries.
How Much Time to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If someone dies after a medical error, the injury victim is no longer alive to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Instead, a personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. Under Pennsylvania law, there is a 2-year limitation for filing an action to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by a wrongful act or neglect.
Shorter Time Limit for Claims Against the City or County
Some injury cases may involve negligent medical care provided by a city, county, or commonwealth agency. If your medical malpractice, wrongful death, or personal injury lawsuit includes a claim against Philadelphia, a county agency, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there may be a notice requirement for filing your claim.
For example, if you have a claim against the City of Philadelphia, you may have to provide written notice of your injury within 6 months. According to the City of Philadelphia, “under the Governmental Immunity Tort Act, the City of Philadelphia must have written notice of your claim within six months of the date of loss.”
Under Pennsylvania Statute 42 § 5522, for any claim against the commonwealth or government agency for damages, you have to provide written notice within 6 months of the injury, including:
- The name and residence address of the person to whom the cause of action has accrued.
- The name and residence address of the person injured.
- The date and hour of the accident.
- The approximate location where the accident occurred.
- The name and residence or office address of any attending physician.
Talk to your medical malpractice attorney about any claims that may involve a lawsuit against the city, county, or state agency to make sure your claim is filed in time.
When Should I Hire a Lawyer After a Medical Injury?
It is never too early to talk to a lawyer after suffering an injury caused by medical errors. Some injury victims wait too long because they are not 100% sure their injuries are related to medical mistakes. You don’t have to be 100% clear about your case before talking to a lawyer. An experienced malpractice attorney can listen to your case and review your medical record to see if there could have been malpractice.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can take a lot of time because there are extensive records, multiple medical providers, and parties that have not been identified. Giving your attorney more time to review your case can make sure you have a strong legal claim to recover the maximum compensation available. If you suspect something went wrong, talk to a medical malpractice lawyer to understand your legal options.
The statute of limitations can be harsh. If you file your case just one day late, it could mean you will get nothing for your injuries. However, there may be exceptions that will allow you to recover compensation beyond the 2-year time limit. Talk to a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you can after a medical injury.
To understand your malpractice case, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm for legal advice about your rights. A medical malpractice attorney can review your case and help you understand what went wrong and who was responsible. With an experienced attorney on your side, you can recover the maximum damages for your injuries. Contact a law firm that handles medical malpractice cases like yours. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.