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What is the limitations period in medical wrongful death cases?

A limitations period is the amount of time a party has to file a lawsuit. The limitations period for any given type of suit is laid out in a law that is typically referred to as a "statute of limitations." In Pennsylvania, if a person dies as a result of medical negligence, their loved ones can initiate a suit against the negligent health care provider. However, they must do so within two years.

Within two years of what was the subject of a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, which clarified how the two year statute of limitations is to be calculated in medical malpractice cases in which the victim has died. Before the Court issued its opinion in Dubose v. Quinlan, courts calculated the statute of limitations in such cases at the time of the injury that ultimately resulted in the death. For example, if a surgeon left an instrument inside a patient, which resulted in an infection that killed the patient three months later, the limitations period would have started running at the time of the surgery.

The Dubose case, however, changed that. Written by Justice Sallie Mindy and handed down at the end of November, Dubose holds that the limitations periods in fatal medical negligence cases starts to run at the time of death. In the example above, this would give the victim's loved ones an extra three months to initiate a lawsuit. Under the old method of calculation, it was possible that a medical error could result in a series of complications, causing the victim to die more than two years later.

In this scenario, the victim's family would be precluded from filing suit at all - because it had been more than two years since the injury that caused the death had occurred. The Dubose case rectifies this potential injustice and gives families who are grieving the loss of the victim more time to decide whether to sue. Families who have lost a loved one as a result of medical malpractice should seek the advice of experienced attorneys, such as those of Leisawitz Heller.

Source:, "DUBOSE v. QUINLAN RNC BSN,'" Nov. 22, 2017, accessed Feb. 12, 2018

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