In an effort to protect physicians, the Pennsylvania legislature in 2002 passed a law called the Statute of Repose (read the full text of the Statute of Repose). This Statute differs from Pennsylvania's Statute of Limitations in that the deadlines imposed for the filing of lawsuits are very strict. Although there are many situations where the Statute of Limitations can be avoided, there are very few exceptions to Pennsylvania's Statute of Repose in medical malpractice cases. In fact, Pennsylvania's Statute of Repose is extraordinarily restrictive and sets forth a firm time limit after which the rights of a medical malpractice victim will no longer be protected.
Pennsylvania's Statute of Repose can be found in Section 513 of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, also known as the MCARE Act. It states that "no cause of action asserting a medical professional liability claim may be commenced after seven years from the date of the alleged tort or breach of contract." This means that regardless of when a patient discovers that he or she is a victim of medical malpractice, if the act of negligence occurred more than seven (7) years earlier, the medical malpractice victim is barred from filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, if a patient had an x-ray taken in 2005, and discovered in 2013 that the x-ray revealed a cancer which could have been cured had it been treated in 2005, that person's claim would be barred by the Statute of Repose since a lawsuit was not filed within seven (7) years from the failure of the radiologist to report the cancer. This obviously is a very harsh statute which can prevent patients from bringing meritorious medical malpractice lawsuits.
There are a few exceptions to this Statute of Repose. First, if a foreign object such as a sponge or a surgical instrument is left in the patient after a procedure, the Statute of Repose does not apply and the patient would have two (2) years from the date that the foreign object was discovered to have been left in the patient. Second, if the victim of medical malpractice is a minor, he or she has the right to bring a lawsuit after attaining the age of twenty (20) years even though the act of malpractice occurred more than seven (7) years earlier. Last, medical malpractice which causes the death of the patient has to be filed within two (2) years from the date of death unless there has been a fraudulent concealment or an affirmative misrepresentation by the healthcare providers.
Because of the Statute of Repose, if you or any member of your family believes that you are a victim of medical malpractice, it is important that you immediately consult an attorney so that your legal rights can and will be protected.