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Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Law - An Overview

Important Notice: The following overview of Pennsylvania's medical malpractice laws is presented on an as-is basis. This information is believed accurate as of the date of authorship, but is not intended to provide a complete analysis of medical malpractice law and may not reflect subsequent changes in the law. For a full review of Pennsylvania's medical malpractice law, or for a determination of how the law applies to a specific incident or injury, please consult a malpractice lawyer licensed to practice in the state of Pennsylvania.

Contents

What Is Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice, sometimes referred to as medical negligence, occurs when a health care provider violates the governing standard of care when providing treatment to a patient, causing the patient to suffer an injury. Medical malpractice can result from an action taken by the medical practitioner, or by the failure to take a medically appropriate action. Examples of medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis of, or failure to diagnose , a disease or medical condition;
  • Failure to provide appropriate treatment for a medical condition;
  • Unreasonable delay in treating a diagnosed medical condition;

Medical malpractice actions can be brought by the injured patient against any responsible licensed health care provider, including doctors, counselors, psychologists and psychotherapists.

Limits on Malpractice Damages

There are no caps on damages in medical malpractice cases.

Collateral Source Rule

Under a traditional collateral source rule, a defendant may not seek to reduce its liability by introducing evidence that the plaintiff has received compensation from other sources, such as the plaintiff's own insurance coverage. For medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, a patient is prohibited from from suing for damages that were paid by a health insurer.

Rules for Expert Witnesses

Pennsylvania does not impose special requirements for expert testimony in malpractice cases.

Joint and Several Liability

Under a traditional rule of joint and several liability, where more than one defendant is found liable for the injury suffered by a plaintiff, each defendant is individually liable for the entire amount of the judgment, such that if one defendant is unable to pay the other defendant or defendants are liable for the entire amount of the judgment. Pennsylvania has abolished joint and several liability, except in cases involving intentional tort or misrepresentation, release of hazardous substances, violations of the state liquor code, and instances when defendant is 60% or more at fault for the plaintiff's injury.

Statute of Limitations

Medical malpractice actions must be commenced within two years of the act or omission giving rise to the injury. Under Pennsylvania law, an unemancipated minor (a person under the age of eighteen who is not totally self-supporting) may file suit within two years of his or her eighteenth birthday. Unless a longer period is otherwise provided by law, an emancipated minor must file suit within two years of the date the injury occurred.

Limits on Attorney Fees

Pennsylvania does not impose special limits on attorney fees in malpractice cases.

Additional Rules

An lawyer's signature on a complaint in a medical malpractice case certifies that the lawyer has consulted with an expert witness who will attest to the position taken in the complaint.

Pennsylvania mandates a conciliation hearing, which may take the form of a settlement conference or mediation in accord with the wishes of the parties.

Why Use A Malpractice Lawyer

Medical malpractice law is a highly technical field of law, and malpractice lawsuits tend to be fiercely defended by well-funded defense firms.

Medical malpractice lawsuits can be exceptionally expensive to pursue, with costs often exceeding $100,000.00. Due to the technical skills involved in prosecuting a malpractice claim, the possibility that an inexperienced lawyer may not be sufficiently conversant with the medical issues, or might make a technical error which causes a case to be lost or dismissed, and the very high costs the malpractice law firm typically must advance, an injured patient is very well served by going with a specialist firm.

Even within the specialized practice of medical malpractice law, you will find that some lawyers have subspecialties of practice, for example focusing on surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or birth trauma cases.