This blog was updated in March of 2022 to reflect the most up-to-date information regarding malpractice claims in Pennsylvania.
Is It Too Late For Me To File A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
“I didn’t know my doctor made a mistake.”
In the past, we’ve come across many victims of malpractice in Philly who learn of their legal options long after the negligence took place. They often come to us years after the incident and wonder if they can still file a legal claim or if their case is outside of the statute of limitations.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on a Medical Malpractice Case in Philadelphia?
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 another 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.
In these situations, the law still requires that plaintiffs take action within a reasonable period of time after they learn (or should have learned) about their injuries. The inquiry as to when a plaintiff knew or should have known, of his or her injury is often complex and fact-specific.
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.
The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Schuster Law can help you understand whether the statute of limitations has passed in your case, as well as navigate Pennsylvania’s other procedural rules that may apply to your claim.
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 Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim Arising Out of Medical Malpractice?
Under Pennsylvania law, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years from the date of death.
However, if the decedent died as a result of medical malpractice, there is an exception to this general rule. In these cases, a surviving spouse, child, or parent has up to six months from the date of death to file a notice of intent to file a wrongful death claim. The actual lawsuit must then be filed within two years from the date of death.
If you have lost a loved one and suspect that medical malpractice may have been a factor, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
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.
Our legal team will thoroughly investigate your claim, review your medical records, and consult with medical experts to determine whether you have a case. If we believe you have a claim, we will aggressively pursue it, working to get you the compensation and justice that you deserve.
To learn more about how our firm can help you, contact us today for a free consultation. We represent clients in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania.