By Wexler Coding
Protecting Your Rights: Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania
You may have heard of the statute of limitations law. And what you may have heard is that the moment you suffer an injury that is the result of someone else’s actions or omissions, the proverbial clock starts ticking to file your lawsuit. That can be true, but it is not always true. There are cases where the clock doesn’t start ticking the moment you are injured. Sometimes, the clock doesn’t start ticking until the moment you knew or should have known that your injury was the result of someone else’s negligence. This nuance is important because if you fail to file your lawsuit within the correct legal deadline, then you lose your right to file a lawsuit altogether.
You may think the legal time period of two years (or, 24 months) seems fairly straightforward, but, in fact, there is nothing straightforward about the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, as demonstrated above. And, to make matters even more complicated, sometimes a plaintiff doesn’t have to file a lawsuit within two years. If the plaintiff is a minor, for example, they may have more than two years to file a lawsuit. But even though in some cases, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit beyond the two-year deadline, it doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Indeed, knowing when to file your lawsuit in Pennsylvania is essential to protect your legal rights. Your best course of action is to contact an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury or medical malpractice lawyer so that you maintain your right to file a lawsuit.
Read on to learn more about certain clarifications and exceptions to the Pennsylvania statute of limitations laws.
THE DISCOVERY RULE
The discovery rule is an exception to the standard statute of limitations. Under the discovery rule, the two-year clock starts ticking as soon as the plaintiff is aware or should have been aware that their injury was the cause of the defendant’s negligence. The following example in the context of medical negligence may help illustrate how the discovery rule would work. Let’s say you were coughing and had chest pain. You went to Doctor A and had x-rays taken of your lungs on June 2, 2023. That same day, Doctor A failed to properly read those x-rays, which showed lung cancer. Doctor A, mistakenly missing the cancer, diagnoses you with pneumonia and sends you home with a prescription for antibiotics. Six months later, on December 2, 2023, you go to a different doctor – Doctor B – with the same complaints of coughing and chest pain. You tell Doctor B that you had been feeling lousy since the summer and Doctor A had taken x-rays. Doctor B looks at your medical chart and examines your June x-ray films. Doctor B reads the x-rays correctly and notes that you have lung cancer. The six-month delay in treatment for your lung cancer is the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit against Doctor A. But when does the medical malpractice statute of limitations begin to toll? On June 2, 2023, when Doctor A made the mistake? Or on December 2, 2023, when Doctor B discovered the error and told you about it? Under the discovery rule of the Pennsylvania statute of limitations for medical malpractice, the clock doesn’t start ticking until December 2, 2023.
Another exception to the medical malpractice statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is in cases of “fraudulent concealment.” This exception provides that if a plaintiff is fraudulently persuaded or lulled by the defendant medical care providers that the cause of their injury was not actionable in court because they did nothing wrong and/or concealed relevant facts from the plaintiff, the plaintiff might argue that they have more than two years from the date of the injury. The plaintiff could have as much as two years from the time they discovered (or should have discovered) that the defendant’s actions or omissions could likely have caused their injury. In order for this exception to apply, the plaintiff need not prove that the fraudulent concealment was intentional or purposely deceitful. The plaintiff just needs to prove that the defendants persuaded the plaintiff that the cause of their injury was not actionable.
MINORS – 18 PLUS 2
Children who are injured in Pennsylvania are treated differently from adults who are injured. Children have more time to file a lawsuit than the strict two-year timetable for adults. In Pennsylvania, the child can file a lawsuit up to two years after the child turns 18 (i.e., up until their 20th birthday). But you should never wait that long to consult a law firm. If your child suffered a medical negligence injury, for example, you’d need to contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to preserve your claims.
And while your child’s case doesn’t expire until your child turns 20, your case expires two years after you knew or should have known that your child’s injury was someone’s fault.
Let’s say your 12-year old child was a passenger in a vehicle that was forcefully side-swiped by a speeding vehicle. The impact of the speeding vehicle caused the child to be crushed and the child’s leg broke in multiple places. Technically, and under the law, the child has eight years — until she turns 20 years old – to file a lawsuit against the driver of the speeding vehicle. But it is unwise to wait that long to contact an attorney.
Why is it unwise to wait?
First, the parent of the child does not have eight years to file their claim. That’s right: a parent has a claim, too. It may seem counterintuitive that a parent can have a claim for damages when their child is injured, but think about the costs to a parent in the case of a child’s injuries. The parent typically expends considerable money in medical costs to care for the child’s injuries, rehabilitation and physical therapy, pharmaceutical costs, etc. The parent also might have lost time away from their job to care for their injured child so there is a possible wage loss claim. And then there is the emotional distress a parent endures having to bear witness to their child’s suffering. All of those possible avenues for compensation are gone if the parent fails to file the lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations. In the case of the 12-year old, the parent would have until the child turns 14 years to file their lawsuit.
Another reason it is unwise to wait to contact an attorney is that your lawyer has an arduous task ahead of collecting, preserving, and analyzing countless records, reports, documents, photographs, videos, eyewitness statements, police records, driving records, workplace records, etc. All of this evidence needs to be gathered, secured, and reviewed carefully by your attorney so they can draft a Complaint that sets forth each and every possible cause of action and claim for damages for you and your child.
Thus, the best thing to do after an injury – whether it’s a medical malpractice injury, personal injury, etc. – is to promptly contact an experienced lawyer. The above-illustrated exceptions may apply in your case and, legally-speaking, the clock may not start ticking exactly on the date of your injury. But, make no mistake: time is of the essence. Your attorney needs time to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence. In cases of medical malpractice, your attorney needs to find a medical expert who is specialized in the same type of medicine as the doctor who caused your injury. And once the attorney finds that expert, the expert needs to draft a special document called a Certificate of Merit. Then, your attorney needs to draft a detailed Complaint with all possible causes of actions and claims for damages. All of this takes time so it is wise to contact an experienced personal injury or medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to discuss your possible lawsuit. Start the conversation today with an attorney at VSCP Law.
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