Thursday, August 11, 2022

Superior Court Addresses "Inquiry Notice" Doctrine Under Discovery Rule As Applied to Statute of Limitations in Med Mal Case

In the case of DiDomizio v. Jefferson Pulmonary Associates, No. 1999 EDA 2021 (Pa. Super. Aug. 2, 2022 McLaughlin, J., McCaffery, J., and Pellegrini, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of certain Defendants in a medical malpractice case.  The trial court had based its decision upon a statute of limitations defense.

In its ruling, the court accepted the Plaintiff’s argument that the trial court had erred in relying on the case of Rice v. Dioceses of Altoona-Johnston, 255 A.3d 237 (Pa. 2021) to find that the Plaintiff, under the discovery rule affiliated with the statute of limitations analysis, had “inquiry notice” of her injury more than two years before she filed suit, making her action fall outside of the statute of limitations.

According to the Opinion, in essence, "inquiry notice" relates to facts and circumstances that would put a reasonable person on notice to inquire further as to the status of their medical condition and whether a medical error had occurred.   

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff had a complex medical history during an approximately five (5) year period that caused her to treat with many different types of physicians under an ultimate diagnosis of lung cancer. At the relevant time, the Plaintiff was a woman in her 50s with an approximately thirty (30) year history of smoking who initially went to the hospital because she was coughing up blood. She then began a long course of testing and treating with different doctors.

The Plaintiff eventually filed a medical malpractice action alleging that certain Defendants had misdiagnosed her with a different condition and that the misdiagnosis delayed a cancer diagnosis and thereby limited her treatment options for lung cancer. 

In their defense, the hospital Defendants asserted that the Plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. 

In its Opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed the discovery rule as applied to the statute of limitations and whether or not the Rice case was factually distinguishable since there was, according to the Plaintiff, an issue of material fact as to when she could have been reasonably considered to have had notice of her possible misdiagnosis.

The trial court had accepted the argument of the hospital Defendants that the discovery rule did not toll the running of the statute of limitations because any ordinary, reasonable person who is diagnosed with lung cancer under the facts and circumstances as presented in this particular case, including the fact that the record revealed that the Plaintiff allegedly experienced the signs and symptoms of cancer earlier, possessed sufficient critical facts to put her on notice to make an inquiry of the possible misdiagnosis. 

The Defendants asserted that, since the lawsuit was not filed until more than two (2) years after the Plaintiff was placed on “inquiry notice,” the Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed and found that there was much uncertainty about what was reasonable under facts of this case. The court noted that, given the lengthy history of attempted contradictory diagnoses and treatments, the date of accrual for inquiry notice purposes could not be determined as a matter of law by the trial court and that these issues should be left for a jury to decide as to when the Plaintiff reasonably knew of a medical error that could be redressed by way of a lawsuit. As such, the appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the hospital Defendants.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Anthony J. Gabriel of the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania office of Margolis Edelstein for bringing this case to my attention.

Source of images:  Photo by Lucas Vasques from

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