Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Allows More Time to Sue

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the time bar that was part of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction Error Act (MCARE) is unconstitutional. The time bar, also known as the statute of repose, is unlike a statute of limitations, which allows for a time limitation on a cause of action to be waived or tolled. However, a statute of repose is an absolute bar to claims brought after a certain period, even if the injury is discovered or if the claim accrued after the limitation. A cause of action is barred after seven years under MCARE. However, the recent Pennsylvania ruling will allow those who have claims under MCARE a chance to assert their rights in court after the seven years have passed.

The Case

The case in question involved a plaintiff who donated his liver lobe when his mother needed a liver transplant due to Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD). Eleven years later, a routine blood test conducted on the mother revealed that she still had AATD. The liver transplant surgery should have eliminated AATD. Even though the plaintiff was tested to determine if he also had AATD before the transplant, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) never informed him of the results. The plaintiff assumed that UPMC would not have transplanted his liver if he had the syndrome. When the plaintiff’s mother discovered she still had AATD, a subsequent test on her son revealed he too had AATD.

The two proceeded to file a medical malpractice claim against UPMC and others in 2015. The trial court dismissed the medical malpractice brought against UPMC and other defendants based on the statute of repose bar of seven years under MCARE. The appellate court upheld the trial court ruling.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, overturned the ruling and argued that UPMC did not meet the burden of review. The appellants failed to show how the statute passed intermediate scrutiny. The court did not find a sufficient governmental interest to support the time bar because of the lack of supporting statistical findings on whether the seven-year limit affected insurance costs, or the number of malpractice suits started after seven years.

Erosion of Time Limits in Medical Malpractice Cases

The case is part of a trend of rulings in Pennsylvania courts that are doing away with time limitations on medial malpractice cases in the state. These recent cases will impact management of claims by health care institutions.  Ruling that the time bar is unconstitutional also calls into question the timetables used by these institutions in evaluating potential claims.   Additionally, medical malpractice insurance rates may begin to rise.

Medical professionals and institutions may have to reevaluate their claims procedures and policies considering the recent ruling.

For a professional consultation related to medical malpractice claims, contact MacMain Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or contact us online for an initial consultation. We serve medical professionals and institutions throughout Philadelphia and Chester County from our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.