February 22nd, 2018

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Extended

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a majority opinion, recently held that the statute of limitations in an action brought under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death and Survival statutes extends until two years from the date of the patient’s death. The holding represents a deviation from a long-standing statutory law that provides that a professional medical negligence action must be filed within two years from the date that the alleged negligence occurred.

In the case of Dubose v. Quinlan, Elise Dubose was admitted to Willowcrest Nursing Home in 2005, and diagnosed with pressure ulcers. Ms. Dubose subsequently died in October 2007, allegedly because she developed severe ulcers that were left untreated. The Administrator of Ms. Dubose’s estate filed suit in August 2009, and again in September 2009, and his claims were consolidated.

At trial, a jury awarded Ms. Dubose’s estate $125,000 on the Wrongful Death claim, and $1,000,000 on the Survival claim. The defendants appealed and argued they were entitled to judgment because the Survival Act claim was time-barred for exceeding the two-year statute of limitations. The defendants contended that the statute began to run in 2005, when Ms. Dubose first developed a pressure wound.

In rejecting the defendants’ appeal, the Supreme Court relied upon section 513 of Pennsylvania’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (“MCARE”) Act. After considering the plain language of the MCARE Act, the Court declared that a Survival action in a medical professional liability case resulting in death accrues at the time of death, not at the time of the patient’s injury. As a result, the claim by Ms. Dubose’s estate was timely filed.

Attorney Graig M. Schultz provides litigation support to the firm’s Medical Malpractice Defense Department, representing hospitals, health networks, and physician practices in insurance matters.