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Out of Time? Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

By: Richard Romando

A malpractice statute of limitations is defined as the length of time, after the incident in question, that an individual is allowed to file a claim for medical malpractice.

Specifically, the length of time in question varies based on the state in which the incident occurred. For instance, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for a medical malpractice case is generally two years. This means that an individual has two years from the date of the incident to file a claim for medical malpractice. After this date, from a legal standpoint, the plaintiff has no right to his claim. But, as with most rules, there are exceptions.

The so-called “discovery rule�? is an example in which a state’s malpractice statute of limitation may not begin exactly from the time of the original incident. For example, if a doctor makes a mistake during surgery, but the damages from this error do not make themselves known for a period of time thereafter, the statute of limitations may not begin until symptoms, discomfort or some sort of problems are apparent.

In response to rising damage awards and insurance premiums coming in part as a result of the discovery rule, Pennsylvania enacted a new statute in 2002 that put a cap on the length of time a victim is allowed to file a claim for malpractice, no matter what the circumstances. The statute is known as the “statute of repose,�? and it is applicable to incidents arising after 20 March 2002. This statute prevents any claim from being brought against a physician or caregiver if it has been more than seven years since the incident in question.

Exactly what triggers the beginning of the limitations periods is subject to debate, and as mentioned earlier, statutes of limitations vary from state to state. Patients are encouraged to seek the legal counsel of a medical malpractice attorney before proceeding with any claims.

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