How Long Do You Have to Sue A Hospital For Malpractice?

March 14, 2023

A Hospital Malpractice Lawyer Can Help Win Compensation

When you enter a hospital, you expect to receive competent, professional care that will help you get well, not cause you harm. Unfortunately, all too often, something goes wrong and hospitals and their staff make mistakes that result in injuries to patients that may create new problems, and untreated conditions can worsen and even lead to death.

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to improper care by a hospital or its staff, you may be entitled to compensation through insurance or a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, there is a time limit to sue for medical malpractice in Pennsylvania. According to the law (title 42 section 5524), you generally have just two years after you knew or reasonably should have known about the medical error that caused injury. If a death is involved, (42 Pa.C.S. § 8301) generally allows two years from the time of the death. This time limit is called a statute of limitations, and if you do not file within this time limit, the courts are likely to refuse to hear your case.

In addition to the statute of limitations, there are other laws and issues that affect your ability to bring a lawsuit. Pennsylvania medical malpractice law is complicated. Not everything that goes wrong medically is considered malpractice.  Hospitals and their insurance companies are out for profit and will do everything possible to deny wrongdoing and fight your case.

Proving medical malpractice take careful investigations and expert testimony, and fighting big hospitals and their insurance companies and attorneys is not something you should attempt on your own. Your case must be handled correctly and competently, or you may never collect the compensation you are entitled to. Since medical malpractice law is so complex and it takes time to investigated and prove your case within the statute of limitations, it can help to contact an experienced Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney for advice if you even suspect you have a medical malpractice case.

Can You Sue a Hospital for Negligence?

You can sue a hospital for negligence if you suffer damages due to medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is generally defined as any action (or inaction) by a healthcare provider that departs from accepted medical practices and causes patient injury. When a hospital employee is negligent, fails to provide proper care, and commits medical malpractice, the hospital can be held responsible and liable for any resulting harm to the patient.

Harm to patients can be substantial.  For example, if a patient is diagnosed as suffering from migraines, but actually has had a stroke, the patient can hemorrhage and die. However, a hospital is not responsible for every medical complication, injury or death suffered by its patients. Whether a hospital will be liable depends upon whether the hospital and the people who worked there acted reasonably and with competence when providing medical services.

There is a standard of care that hospitals must adhere to or they can be found negligent and liable for damages. The standard of care is the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would exercise in a similar situation. The standard of care would differ in each situation, depending on the type of healthcare provider involved, so the standard of care for a family doctor would be different than one for a surgeon.

The standard of care for hospitals is set out in the Thompson v. Nason rules for corporate responsibility of a hospital. To prove a hospital was negligent legally, your attorneys would have to show that:

  • The hospital had a duty of care to adhere to the standard of care and not cause you harm.
  • They breached that duty by acting negligently and violating the standard of care.
  • This failure of duty caused your injuries or a death.
  • You suffered damages as a result.

Examples of Hospital Malpractice

While not everything that goes wrong in a hospital is negligence, common actions by employees that may be negligent include:

  • Delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, and improper treatment for the diagnosis
  • Failure to monitor a patient
  • Radiology or laboratory test error, failure to order proper tests, and improper reading of tests
  • Unnecessary surgery, wrong site surgery, or foreign object left inside patient after surgery
  • Improper anesthesia
  • Infection
  • Wrong medication or wrong dose
  • Breach of hospital protocol and procedures
  • Emergency room errors.

Patients can also be injured by unsafe practices of a hospital, such as if there is:

  • Failure to use reasonable care in supervising all health care professionals that use the facility, improper or insufficient employee training, or insufficient staffing
  • Failure to check that every staff member and independent contractor has the proper credentials
  • Nonfunctioning equipment, unsafe grounds and dangerous conditions, or unsanitary supplies
  • Improper recordkeeping.

A hospital can be held liable when it employs a doctor or other healthcare professional who is negligent. Not everyone working in a hospital is actually an employee – many are independent contractors with privileges to work there – but the hospital could still be liable. In Pennsylvania, the Mcare Act addresses when a hospital is negligent even in situations where the negligent party is not an employee. The hospital could still be liable if an investigation shows the hospital controls the doctor’s hours, schedule, vacation time, or fees.

If preventable injuries or death are caused by human error or negligence, there are multiple parties who could be found liable, including doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, pathologists, technicians, radiologists, laboratory personnel, pharmacists, hospital administrators and supervisors, and the hospital corporation or owners. They all may have insurance and assets that may go toward a settlement, and all negligent parties should be included in the lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania?

There are basically two statutes of limitation for medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania. The first time period generally starts when the medical malpractice occurred. The second time period involves situations where the patient dies, and this is generally two years from the date of the patient’s death.

If a loved one has died due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, family members can file a wrongful death action and survival action within two years of the death. Pennsylvania’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act applies to wrongful death or survival actions based on medical malpractice. It states that lawsuits must be commenced within two years after the death unless there is misrepresentation or fraudulent concealment of the cause of death. For cases after March 2002, there is also a statute of repose of seven years in Pennsylvania. This means that even when the rule applies to the ordinary two-year statute of limitations, in most cases, the matter must still be filed within seven years from when the cause of the action happened.

While the time period of two years may seem like long time, be aware that investigating and proving medical malpractice cases requires time. To prove negligence, your medical malpractice attorneys will have to gather evidence by obtaining medical records, photographs and videos, and eyewitness statements. And your attorney will also have to acquire testimony from medical experts.

Pennsylvania requires that your attorney file a “certificate of merit,” signed by the attorney, within 60 days of filing a medical malpractice Complaint. The attorney’s statement must indicate that an expert has provided a written statement that asserts one of the following:

  • There is a reasonable probability of breached standard of care; or
  • The defendant was responsible for the person who breached the standard of care; or
  • There are circumstances where expert testimony is not needed to pursue the claim.

It is also necessary to work with expert witnesses to determine where there was malpractice and with experts to testify on your behalf as to how the malpractice negatively impacted your life and how it affects your future. Your attorney must then negotiate with insurance companies and their attorneys for a fair settlement, and this takes time. Should negotiations break down, your attorney needs time to build your case and take it to court and present it before a judge and jury.

Call Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers in Pennsylvania for Help

If you or a loved one has been injured or someone has died due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to a medical malpractice damage award that should cover both economic or monetary losses and non-economic damages that do not have a dollar value but negatively impact your life.  These may include:

  • medical, rehabilitation, and hospital expenses
  • loss of wages as well as loss of wages into the future
  • physical and emotional pain and suffering
  • loss of life’s pleasures
  • disfigurement
  • loss of society and consortium.

In rare situations, where the medical malpractice was caused by actions that were willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference to your rights, you may also be awarded punitive damages. While settlement amounts vary, depending on the extent of the damages and the circumstances, they can range into the thousands and millions of dollars. Determining employment status and assigning fault in medical malpractice cases can get complicated, so it’s important to speak with an experienced hospital negligence lawyer as soon as possible.

For almost 40 years, the Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney at Wapner Newman have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have extensive experience dealing with hospital malpractice, and can review your case and advise you whether you have grounds to seek financial compensation. We believe that harm due to a hospital’s mistake or omission is unacceptable and will hold the at-fault parties accountable and making them pay for their mistakes.

We offer free consultations to discuss your case and determine the best way to move forward. We work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf.

Don’t delay. It’s important to start our investigations as quickly as possible while evidence and witnesses can still be found, so we can file your case within the framework of the Pennsylvania statute of limitations for medical malpractice. Call us today at (215) 569-0900.