Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

This page is about Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuits. We discuss

  1. the law governing these suits, and
  2. the settlement amounts and jury payouts victim see.

Pennsylvania is one of the biggest states in the U.S., both in terms of population and geographic size. It is home to two major cities and metro areas. Thousands of medical malpractice cases are filed yearly in Pennsylvania’s civil courts. Pennsylvania has unique statutory laws and common law rules governing medical negligence and malpractice lawsuits. Although Miller & Zois is based in Maryland, we regularly handle malpractice suits in Pennsylvania through a close working partnership with local counsel or directly through our Pennsylvania attorneys.

Anyone considering a medical malpractice lawsuit in Pennsylvania must be familiar with the state’s malpractice laws because they can significantly impact the value of your case or whether you have the right to sue. The three laws in Pennsylvania that can have the most significant 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. A potential lawsuit 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 two 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 reasonable person would have realized that they suffered an injury due to medical negligence.

Example: P underwent heart surgery in 2018, and everything seems okay. Four 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 probably 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 18, the two-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 the date of discovery. Under Pennsylvania’s statute of repose, all lawsuits for medical malpractice must be filed within seven years of the injury, regardless of when it was discovered. There are two 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., the 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, they are entitled to damages, but the amount of damages will be reduced 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 means that if you want to file a malpractice case you need to get another doctor to review your case and state in writing that the defendant’s 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 purpose of this requirement is to filter out potentially frivolous or excessive malpractice lawsuits.

First Responder Immunity

In Pennsylvania, first responders who render medical aid or treatment have limited immunity from being sued for medical malpractice. Under the Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Services Act (35 Pa. C.S. 81), first responders who are licensed healthcare providers such as EMTs, paramedics, etc. cannot be held liable for medical negligence when rendering aid unless they are found to have acted with reckless indifference or gross negligence.  This rule was recently applied by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in the case of Fry v. Montrose Minute Men, Inc. (50 MDA 2022 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jul. 28, 2023)), where the court dismissed claims of medical negligence against first responders based on an absence of gross negligence.

Corporate Negligence

Pennsylvania does have corporate negligence which is a useful weapon when suing a hospital for malpractice. With a corporate negligence claim, a hospital has a direct obligation to its patients to ensure their safety and well-being during their stay.

So a hospital is required to fulfill several key responsibilities: (1) to exercise reasonable care in maintaining safe and adequate facilities and equipment; (2) to hire and retain competent medical staff; (3) to supervise all medical personnel working within the hospital in relation to patient care; and (4) to develop, implement, and enforce comprehensive rules and policies that guarantee high-quality care for patients.

What Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyers for victims like about the corporate negligence doctrine is that it holds the hospital directly accountable for upholding an appropriate standard of care to the patient. It provides real accountability.  This means that if a patient is harmed, they do not need to prove the negligence of an individual staff member, like a doctor or nurse, to establish a legal claim. Instead, corporate negligence focuses on the actions or lack thereof of the hospital as an institution.

It stems from the overall policies and procedures of the hospital or from its failure to act rather than the specific actions of individual employees. Therefore, under corporate negligence, a hospital is directly liable for its own negligence, distinguishing it from cases where it might be held indirectly or vicariously liable for the actions of its staff.

Litigating Medical Malpractice Cases in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a large state geographically and has various social demographics within its various regions. There are two major cities in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Both 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 three 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 that prevent plaintiffs in malpractice cases from venue shopping and filing their case in places like Philadelphia when the injury or malpractice occurred elsewhere. So you are not seeing medical malpractice lawsuits rising in Philadelphia but dwindling in Montgomery, Delaware, and Bucks counties.

Calculating Pennsylvania Malpractice Lawsuit Settlement Compensation

Settlement amounts for medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania are calculated based on so many factors, many of which you will not see in an example malpractice lawsuit summary.  But there are three umbrella categories:

  1. Economic Damages: These include measurable costs such as medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, and future loss of earnings. The plaintiff is compensated for both past and future expected economic losses. The important thing to remember here is that the collateral source rule allows plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits to recover the full amount of their medical expenses, even if a portion of those expenses was already paid by a third party (such as a health insurer). This means that the defendant cannot reduce the amount of damages they owe by the amount that another source has already paid.  There are some limitations and nuances to this rule, but victims often do not understand this and assume their economic damages are far less than they actually are.
  2. Non-Economic Damages: Compensation for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.  One reason why this is a good state to try a medical malpractice lawsuit is that Pennsylvania does not have a cap on non-economic damages unless the case is against a state government entity.
  3. Punitive Damages: In Pennsylvania, punitive damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit are awarded only when the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s actions were not just negligent but also exhibited willful misconduct, recklessness, or a conscious disregard for the rights of others. The standard for punitive damages is still high but not as high as most states because it does not require actual malice.  It requires that the behavior of the defendant be more than mere negligence; it must be egregious or outrageously careless.

Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements

Below are recent medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania and their jury payouts or settlement amount.

Keep in mind, each case is unique, and the settlement amount for a malpractice lawsuit will depend on the specific circumstances, including the severity of the injury, the impact on the victim’s life, the liability of the healthcare provider, and the strength of the evidence.

But even if those factors seem so line up well with the facts of your claim, it does not mean that you can expect a similar outcome in your case. Still, these example malpractice cases are instructive in helping you better understand the potential ranges of values in similar cases.

  • Heffelfinger v. Shen (Luzerne County 2024) $11 Million Verdict. A patient suffered from stage four squamous cell carcinoma after a dentist failed to properly investigate a sore on the patient’s tongue. Despite visiting the dentist eight times over seven months, the necessary biopsy referral was never made. The patient’s condition progressed, requiring intensive treatment including chemotherapy and partial tongue removal. After the cancer diagnosis, attempts to obtain dental records were met with resistance; the dentist suggested a liability waiver and then allegedly withheld or destroyed the records. The case highlighted issues of negligence and obstruction, culminating in an $11 million verdict from a Luzerne County jury, which included $8 million in punitive damages for the dentist’s conduct in handling the patient’s records and claims.
  • DiMeo v. Gross (Philadelphia County 2023) $3.5 Million Verdict. A Philadelphia man sustained irreversible heart damage after his complaints of chest pain were initially dismissed as gastrointestinal issues by his primary care physician. His persistent health concerns led him to request diagnostic tests like an EKG and chest X-ray, but he was instructed to undergo outpatient testing rather than an immediate, thorough examination. It was only after he experienced severe chest pain and visited an emergency department at another hospital that an EKG confirmed a heart attack. The delay in accurate diagnosis and treatment resulted in permanent damage to his heart, leading to a jury in Philadelphia awarding him $3.5 million for this tragic medical oversight.
  • Wolfgang v. Bradford Regional Medical Center (McKean County 2023) $3.25 Million Verdict. The plaintiff alleged that his doctors incorrectly diagnosed and treated an infection in his foot, which eventually necessitated a below-the-knee amputation. The case encountered a significant obstacle when an unexpected testimony contradicted a key aspect of Wolfgang’s claim, but the plaintiff’s legal team managed to unearth a crucial piece of medical documentation to challenge this assertion. Following deliberations, the jury apportioned 99% of the responsibility for the injury to the doctors and 1% to the victim.  This was the first malpractice verdict in McKean County in over 20 years.
  • Dixon v. Sayeed (Philadelphia County 2023) $1.65 Million Verdict. A woman was suffering from a pulmonary embolism but was instead treating her for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation. She subsequently suffered a fatal cardiac arrest stemming from the undiagnosed pulmonary embolism. At trial, the family’s lawyers emphasized the doctor’s refusal to consider alternative diagnoses, arguing he acted the same way at trial underscored his closemindedness that led him to ignore other possible reasons for the woman’s symptoms. Ultimately, the jury returned a $1.65 million verdict against in this survival action and wrongful death malpractice claim.
  • Nicholson-Upsey v. Univ. of Penn. (Philadelphia County 2023) $182,700,000 Verdict. A newborn child suffered from HIE that caused his spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. To seek justice, her mother hired a Philadelphia birth injury attorney who proceeded to file a lawsuit against Penn Hospital. The lawsuit stated that the hospital’s negligence in delaying a cesarean section—despite being aware of the mother’s chorioamnionitis—resulted in the child’s cerebral palsy and brain injuries. According to the family, if the child had been delivered sooner, cerebral palsy and brain injuries could have been prevented. Penn Hospital, however, argued that they didn’t negligently delay the delivery and that the uterine infection was the cause of the baby’s injuries. However, the jury favored the plaintiff, awarding a staggering $182.7 million in damages: $101 million for lifetime care expenses, $1.7 million.
  • Latham v. Heritage Valley Health Systems (Beaver County 2023) $16,000,000 Verdict. A 39-year-old woman was experiencing several health issues during her high-risk pregnancy. In the period leading up to the stillbirth, she reported swelling in her extremities, which led to two hospital visits involving tests. According to the plaintiffs, during her second visit, the tests indicated fetal tachycardia, but the doctor did not order additional bloodwork or urinalysis. An ultrasound four days later found no fetal movement or heartbeat, leading to the delivery of the nonviable fetus via C-section. The plaintiffs hired a Pittsburg medical malpractice lawyer and filed a lawsuit. The suit contended that the stillbirth occurred because Lisa’s doctors failed to diagnose her severe preeclampsia. The defendants, however, disputed this, arguing that the conditions cited by the plaintiffs as causing the stillbirth were not supported by evidence. The breakdown of the award included $10 million for wrongful death, $5 million for pain and suffering, and an over $1 million payout for loss of income.
  • MDW v Main Line Hosp. (Montgomery County 2022) $3,000,000 Settlement: A wrongful death of a 7-year-old boy allegedly caused by the emergency room’s negligent failure to diagnose and treat his infection. The case settled for $3 million.
  • Musika v Gomez (Montgomery County 2022) $750,000: A malpractice lawsuit over the negligent failure to diagnose cancer by performing a needle biopsy led to a delay in treatment and progression of cancer in a middle-aged male plaintiff. A jury in Philadelphia suburbs awarded $750,000 in damages.
  • Rasley v Nemours Foundation (Montgomery County 2022) $750,000:  A newborn baby died four days after birth from the negligent failure of the 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: A 55-year-old male died from an aortic dissection, and the estate brought a wrongful death case against the hospital for negligently discharging him the night before without ordering the proper tests and consults.
  • Lee v Marks (Philadelphia County 2022) $1,150,000: A 42-year-old man died from a heart attack after going to the hospital the previous day. Plaintiff alleged the defendants failed to timely perform a cardiac assessment, evaluation , and 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.

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