What is the statute of limitations on a medical malpractice case?
Medical malpractice injuries ― unlike injuries caused by car crashes, dog bites, and slip-and-fall accidents ― often are not immediately known to the victim. Indeed, it sometimes takes years before patients realize they may have been harmed by a trusted healthcare provider’s error.
Circumstances when patients may not immediately recognize medical mistakes include:
- Misdiagnosis ― A wrong diagnosis can lull patients into believing they are receiving proper medical care, when they really are receiving inappropriate treatment, and their underlying medical condition is deteriorating.
- Delayed diagnosis ― A delayed diagnosis may cause a patient’s condition, injury, or illness to worsen and consequently require more acute treatment.
- Retained surgical instruments ― A doctor may leave foreign objects, such as sponges and surgical tools, in a patient during surgery, which a patient, often for many years, would have no way of knowing about.
Fortunately for patients, Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice law recognizes that medical mistakes are not always apparent. While each case will depend significantly upon its individual facts and circumstances, below are answers to questions we typically hear from patients when they first contact our office asking if it’s too late to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
How Long Do I Have to Sue for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania?
Victims of medical malpractice in Pennsylvania have two years from the date of the act of malpractice by a doctor, nurse, or other medical provider to bring a lawsuit unless their case qualifies for an exception that allows for more time. This fixed time frame is called a statute of limitations. An exception to the two-year deadline is made when the patient’s injury is not immediately known. Another exception is made for patients who are minors, meaning they are under age 18. Minors have until their 20th birthday to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
I Didn’t Immediately Know That I Was Injured. How Does the Exception to the Two-Year Deadline Work?
Pennsylvania has what’s called the discovery rule. Under this rule, the two-year “clock” provided by the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning it does not begin to run until the date when the patient knew or should have known about their injury and its connection to the alleged acts of medical malpractice.
Note that the statute of limitations does not stay tolled indefinitely. There is a seven-year deadline ― which begins running from the date of the medical provider’s error ― for a patient to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. After seven years, a patient has no legal right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, regardless of when the patient knew or should have known of the healthcare provider’s error. The seven-year deadline is called a statute of repose.
Does the Statute of Repose Have Any Exceptions?
Yes. There are two important exceptions to the statute of repose:
- The seven-year deadline does not apply to lawsuits alleging that a healthcare provider accidentally left a foreign object (such as a sponge or surgical tool) in a patient’s body. Patients can bring these suits at any time within two years of when they discovered the healthcare provider’s error.
- When a patient dies, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within two years of the death unless there is evidence that the medical provider fraudulently concealed or actively misrepresented the cause of death.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Been Injured by the Error of a Doctor, Nurse, or Other Medical Provider?
It is important that you consult with an attorney immediately as you may have a medical malpractice claim. For more than 30 years, the lawyers at Schuster Law have been pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits for victims and their families. The lawsuits seek damages for pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, lost wages, and medical expenses.