Pennsylvania is one of the biggest states in the U.S., both in terms of population and geographic size and it is home to 2 major cities and metro areas. Thousands of medical malpractice cases are filed in Pennsylvania’s civil courts each year. Pennsylvania has its own unique statutory laws and common law rules governing medical negligence and malpractice lawsuits. Although Miller & Zois is based in Maryland, we regularly handle cases in Pennsylvania through a close working partnership with local counsel or directly through our PA attorneys.
Anyone who is considering a medical malpractice lawsuit in Pennsylvania needs to be familiar with the state’s malpractice laws because they can have a major impact on the value of your case or whether you have the right to sue at all. The 3 laws in Pennsylvania that can have the biggest impact on prospective malpractice plaintiffs are: (1) the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, (2) the Pennsylvania modified comparative negligence rule, and (3) the certificate of merit requirement.
Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases
All states have a statute of limitations for malpractice and other tort claims, which is essentially a legal time deadline for filing a lawsuit. If you have a potential lawsuit it must be filed before the statute of limitations deadline or the claim will be barred.
For medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania the statute of limitations is 2 years from the date that the malpractice was “discovered” or reasonably should have been discovered. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2). The malpractice is “discovered” when a reasonably person would have realized that they suffered injury as a result of medical negligence.
Example: P undergoes heart surgery in 2018 and everything seems to be fine. 4 years later in 2022, however, P suffers a massive heart attack and doctors inform him that the surgery in 2018 was not performed correctly and that this error is probably what caused his recent heart attack. Even though the “injury” to P occurred in 2018, the 2-year statute of limitations did not begin to run until 2022 when he discovered the medical negligence.
There are some exceptions to this rule most notably for minors. When the injured patient is under the age of 18, the 2 year limitation period does not begin to run until the minor reaches the age of 18. 42 Pa. Stat. § 5533.
7-Year Statute of Repose
In addition to the 2-year statute of limitation described above, Pennsylvania also has a 7-year statute of repose that applies to medical malpractice claims. A statute of repose is like a maximum time limit or deadline for all claims regardless of when the date of discovery is. Under Pennsylvania’s statue of repose, all lawsuits for medical malpractice must be filed within 7 years of the injury regardless of when it was discovered. There are 2 notable exceptions to this 7-year repose limit: (1) claims for foreign objects left inside the body; and (2) claims for injury to a minor.
Pennsylvania Follows Comparative Negligence
Pennsylvania applies a modified comparative negligence rule in medical malpractice tort cases. Comparative negligence is a defense that can be used to reduce the damages a plaintiff can recover if the defendant can show that the plaintiff’s own negligent conduct partly contributed to their injury. This requires juries to apportion fault percentages between plaintiffs and defendants, e.g., plaintiff was 20% at fault and the defendant was 80% at fault.
Pennsylvania has adopted a modified comparative fault standard under which a plaintiff’s claim is barred if their share of fault exceeds 50%. So if a jury determines that a plaintiff was 51% responsible and the defendant was 49% responsible for an injury the plaintiff automatically loses the case. As long as the plaintiff’s share of fault is 50% or less, then they are entitled to damages but the amount of damages will be reduced in based on the plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
EXAMPLE: A jury finds the plaintiff 25% at fault and the defendant 75% at fault and awards damages of $1,000,000. The damage award will be reduced by 25% so the plaintiff will only receive $750,000.
Certificate of Merit Required
Pennsylvania law requires all lawsuits asserting medical malpractice claims to be supported by a certificate merit. Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.3. The certificate of merit must be signed by a “qualified expert” who has reviewed the plaintiff’s case and provided a written opinion indicating that the defendant’s conduct did not meet the accepted medical standard of care.
This basically means that if you want to file a malpractice case you need to get an another doctor to review your case and state in writing that the defendant doctors were negligent. The certificate of merit must be submitted within 60 days of the lawsuit being filed or the case will be automatically dismissed. The obvious purpose of this requirement is to filter out potentially frivolous or excessive malpractice lawsuits.
Litigating Medical Malpractice Cases in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is large state geographically and it has a wide range of social demographics within its various regions. There are 2 major cities in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Both of these are favorable jurisdictions for plaintiffs in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases. The state capital, Harrisburg, is also a good venue for medical malpractice plaintiffs.
Outside of these 3 major urban areas, however, most of venues in Pennsylvania are not good for plaintiffs. This is a problem in many cases because Pennsylvania has rules which prevent plaintiffs in malpractice cases from venue shopping and filing their case in places like Philadelphia when the injury or malpractice occurred elsewhere.
Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements
Below are verdicts and reported settlements from recent medical malpractice cases in Georgia.
- MDW v Main Line Hosp. (Montgomery County 2022) $3,000,000: wrongful death of 7-year-old boy allegedly caused by emergency room’s negligent failure to diagnose and treat his infection. Case settled for $3 million.
- Musika v Gomez (Montgomery County 2022) $750,000: negligent failure to diagnose cancer by performing needle biopsy led to delay in treatment and progression of cancer in middle-aged male plaintiff. Jury in Philadelphia suburbs awarded $750,000 in damages.
- Rasley v Nemours Foundation (Montgomery County 2022) $750,000: newborn baby died 4-days after birth from negligent failure of hospital to recognize and treat neonatal sepsis including his mother’s urinary tract infection during pregnancy. Case settled before trial.
- Deger v Choi (Bucks County 2022) $4,850,000: 55-year-old male died from aortic dissection and estate brought wrongful death case against hospital for negligently for discharging him the night before without ordering the proper tests and consults.
- Lee v Marks (Philadelphia County 2022) $1,150,000: 42-year-old man died from a heart attack after going to the defendant hospital the previous day. Plaintiff alleged the defendants failed to timely perform a cardiac assessment, evaluation and/or screening, and failed to timely and properly treat his cardiac condition.
Contact Us About Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice
If you have a potential medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania, call our attorneys today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.