Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Judge Minora of Lackawanna County Addresses Statute of Limitations and Discovery Rule in Medical Malpractice Case

In his recent December 23, 2014 Opinion in the case of Peoples v. Philbin, No. 2010-CV-6623 (C.P. Lacka. Co. 2014 Minora, J.), Judge Carmen D. Minora granted certain Defendants a judgment on the pleadings based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice case.  

By way of background, this medical malpractice case alleges a failure to timely detect or diagnose the presence of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.   The Plaintiff filed an original Writ of Summons naming two (2) Defendants and, later, filed Amended Complaints to join two (2) more Defendants after the statute of limitations expired.    

Judge Carmen D. Minora
Lackawanna County
The Defendants who were joined later in the action filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings asserting that the Plaintiff did not file her claim against those particular Defendants within the two (2) year statute of limitations and further argued that, given that the Plaintiff had joined those Defendants more than four (4) years after her diagnosis, the discovery rule was inapplicable to toll the statute of limitations.  

In his Opinion, Judge Minora reviewed the relevant law.  Under Pennsylvania, a cause of action for negligence accrues when the Plaintiff could have first maintained the action to a successful conclusion.   Stated otherwise, in a suit to recover damages for personal injuries, the right to sue generally arises when the injury is inflicted.  

Once a cause of action has accrued and the statute of limitations period has run, an injured party is barred under Pennsylvania law from bringing his action.   Fine v. Checcio, 870 A.2d 850, 858 (Pa. 2005).  

As noted by Judge Minora, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Checcio emphasized that statute of limitations “are designed to effectuate three (3) purposes:  (1) preservation of evidence; (2) the right of potential defendants to repose; and (3) administrative efficiency and convenience.”   Baselice v. Franciscan Friars Assumption BVM Province, Inc., 379 A.2d 270, 275-276 (Pa. Super. 2005).  

Under the above law, the court found that the actions against the later joined Defendants were barred by the applicable two (2) year statute of limitations.  


With regard to the Plaintiff’s argument to extend the statute of limitations under the discovery rule, the court noted that the purpose of the discovery rule is to exclude from the running of the statute of limitations that period of time during which a party who has suffered an injury is reasonably unaware that he has been injured, in order that that party may essentially have the same rights as those who have suffered a known injury.  

When the discovery rule applies, the statute of limitations does not commence the run at the instant   Rather, the statute is tolled, and does not begin to run until the injured party discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that he or she has been injured and that his injury has been caused by another party’s acts or omissions.  
the right to bring suit arises, i.e., when the injury occurs.

Judge Minora noted that, while the questions as to when a party’s injury and its cause were discovered or discoverable is typically for a jury, under the circumstances of this matter, where even the discovery period does not sufficiently toll the statute, the court is able to rule, as a matter of law whether the statute of limitations has run on a claim presented. 

More specifically, given that the later joined Defendants were not joined until four (4) years after the discovery of the Plaintiff’s actual condition, (i.e. not within two years of the discovery of the injury), the discovery rule was found not to require a different result.   As such, the court granted the later joined Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
 

Anyone desiring a copy of this decision, may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.
 
Source of gavel/stopwatch imagewww.lexisnexis.com
 

 

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