A medical negligence repose law recently came under fire in court for potentially violating the state constitution of Pennsylvania. A judge recently ruled that the seven-year-old law should be nixed after determining that the laws don’t serve government interests. The law was part of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, and set a (relatively lenient) statute of limitations of seven years for many cases of medical malpractice.
While changing a statute of limitations might seem unlawful in the first place (shouldn’t people always be legally and justly compensated for losses incurred because of the negligence of other individuals or organizations?), most states actually have even stricter laws in place, usually restricting lawsuits to within one or two years of the date that the alleged malpractice occurred.
These laws often prevent individuals from receiving compensation, because in many cases they don’t realize that the malpractice occurred until it’s already far too late. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania law’s fate was determined by the state’s Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling of Yanakos v. UPMC.
Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy said: “There was no evidence to show the initially proposed four-year statute of repose would provide actuarial certainty, except that it ‘seemed like a reasonable resolution’ to ‘provide some stability and predictability’ to insurers. There is no evidence in the legislative history as to how the General Assembly arrived at a seven-year statute of repose with exceptions for foreign objects cases and minors.”
She cited earlier evidence based on different numbers. Earlier, legislation was introduced that would have put into place a 4-year repose instead. According to Mundy and the other justices who got their way in court, there was no relevant evidence for either time limit.
“The legislature did not cite any statistics on the number of medical malpractice actions that are commenced after seven years of the occurrence giving rise to actions,” she said. “There is no indication that such a time period, as opposed to a longer or shorter period, will have any effect on malpractice insurance costs.”
Justice David Wecht dissented from the majority ruling. He said, “Because existing jurisprudence supplies a different standard, and because it is not this court’s role to upend duly enacted legislation simply because we might sometimes deem it imperfect or unwise, I must respectfully dissent.”
The decision was ultimately based on a case of malpractice that had resulted in a transplant patient getting liver disease from a donor who’d had it. Tests had already confirmed as much before the operation took place, and doctors failed to notify the patients or administer the appropriate patient consent forms.