Medical malpractice 101: Understanding your rights in Pennsylvania

Anyone who believes he or she has suffered as a result of medical negligence in Pennsylvania should understand the basics of filing a claim.

There are several basic principles that apply to medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania that are generally regarded in cases across the country as well. For example, someone who is injured must be able to prove that he or she was in the defendant's care and that the defendant did not provide the standard of care necessary. Additionally, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant's actions - or inaction - caused the injury for which the plaintiff is seeking damages.

There are a few state-specific laws, however, that people should know when they bring a claim.

Is there a deadline for my lawsuit?

Yes. In Pennsylvania, victims of medical malpractice have two years from the date of the injury or the date when the person either knew about or should have known about the injury. The same holds true if the negligence resulted in the death of the patient. The law also provides for a statute of repose, which means that no one may bring a claim once seven years has passed from the date of the injury.

What damages are available?

There are three types of damages on the table for a medical negligence lawsuit, and those are the following:

  • Economic: These refer to actual monetary losses the victim has incurred, such as the cost of medication or hospitalization.
  • Noneconomic: These address non-quantifiable damages, such as pain and suffering.
  • Punitive: These are rare and are intended to punish defendants who have acted especially negligent.

It should be noted that Pennsylvania has a system of "periodic payments" in which the estimated costs for each year are determined, factoring in items such as inflation. Then, payments for damages are made over time instead of all at once, unless the award is less than $100,000 in which case the plaintiff may be able to secure a lump sum.

Is there a cap on damages?

Yes, but only punitive damages. Pennsylvania law enables people to recover whatever amount of economic and noneconomic damages a judge or jury sees fit, but it limits the amount of punitive damages that are available. Under the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, a plaintiff may only be awarded punitive damages that total up to twice the amount of economic damages awarded.

Further, 25 percent of that punitive damages award does not go to the plaintiff. Instead, it is placed into the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund, which is used to compensate plaintiffs when the defendant's malpractice insurance coverage cannot provide for all the damages in the case.

Knowing each of these state-specific items about medical malpractice claims is crucial to ensuring a lawsuit is successful. Anyone who has concerns about this topic should speak with a personal injury attorney in Pennsylvania.