How Long Do You Have To Sue A Doctor or Hospital For Medical Malpractice?

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, if you think that you or a loved one was harmed by a doctor or other medical care provider’s malpractice and are thinking of filing suit, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.  This is because in both states there is a two year statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice law suit.  This typically means there is two years from the date of the medical care provider’s negligence and your injury to file suit against them.

However there are some exceptions to this rule.  In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey there is something called the discovery rule.  This rule was set up for when it is not readily apparent that a medical care provider was negligent and caused you injury.  The classic example is an instrument left inside of you after surgery.  Likewise there are instances where you can have ongoing issues because of other types of internal injuries – such as a nerve being cut during surgery – that you are completely unaware of until a X-Ray, CT scan, MRI, etc. is done.  In these instances the discovery rule may apply to extend the statute of limitations in your case.

In Pennsylvania the discovery rule will also apply in instances where – despite having ongoing pain and other issues after treatment or surgery with a doctor or other medical care provider – your doctor reassures you that your ongoing pain is nothing serious and should get better over time.  In this scenario the clock on the statute of limitations may not start running until you have sought the second opinion of another doctor and discovered your ongoing pain is a result of negligence from your first doctor.

Likewise if a loved ones dies due to the negligence of a medical care provider, it is not the date the negligence occurred that determines when the statute of limitations begins.  Instead it is the date your loved one or family member died that determines when the statute of limitations starts.

The discovery rule does not extend the statute of limitations indefinitely though.  For example, in Pennsylvania there is a statute of repose for medical malpractice cases that states a malpractice claim cannot be filed more than seven years beyond the date you claim there was negligence by your medical care provider.  So, even if the discovery rule extends the statute of limitations beyond two years from the date you claim there was negligence, it can only extend it an extra five years.  There are some exceptions to this rule though.  One is when a surgical instrument was left in your body after surgery.  Another is when you can show your doctor or medical care provider fraudulently concealed their negligence.  Whether the fraudulent concealment exception applies will depend on the facts of your case.

Finally there is a different rule when it comes to the statute of limitations for minors.  They have two years after they reach the age of majority (two years after they turn 18) to file a malpractice claim regardless of when that malpractice happened.  The seven year statute of repose in Pennsylvania also does not apply to a minor’s claim.  Therefore even if the negligence and harm to the minor happened over seven years ago, they still have until they turn twenty to file suit.  However this rule does not apply to the parents of the child – they still have two years to file suit for any harms or losses they have suffered as a result of negligent medical care provided to one of their children.

While two years may seem like a long time, it can also take a lot of time to gather your medical records, review them, and consult with medical experts in order to determine if you have a case.  Therefore if you feel you or a loved one was harmed by a doctor or other medical care provider’s negligence, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible.  The attorneys at the Thistle Firm are experienced in handling medical malpractice cases, and are here to take your call and answer your questions at 215-568-6800.

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