What Evidence Do I Need to Win a Medical Malpractice Settlement in Pennsylvania?

  • August 01, 2022
  • Blog

You’ve gone to the hospital or doctor with a painful, debilitating condition. You received care, but the problem continued to grow worse, failed to improve, or an entirely new medical issue resulted. 

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You may have been the victim of medical malpractice.

Often, when your gut tells you something is wrong with the medical care you received, you’re right.

Healthcare professionals must abide by accepted medical standards. Failure to do so is malpractice. When you have been injured because of medical malpractice, you have rights under Pennsylvania law.

But the time to bring a lawsuit is strictly limited to 2-years from when you knew or should have known about the malpractice. Because of this, it’s crucial to consult with an attorney as soon as you suspect malpractice.

You Must Prove You Filed Your Lawsuit Within the Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania

A statute of limitations is legalese for a deadline. The statute of limitations on medical malpractice differs by state. In Pennsylvania, the medical malpractice statute of limitations stands at two years, the same as other types of personal injury suits. The two-year clock starts when the healthcare provider committed the alleged malpractice. 

However, the clock pauses for as long as the patient remains unaware of the malpractice.

Sound cut and dry?

It can be. But don’t count on it. Additional legal definitions and exceptions cloud the issue in many cases. For plaintiffs, a more complex definition of the statute of limitations is sometimes helpful.

A Cut and Dry Example

Imagine you went to the ER after a car accident. Before administering an anesthetic, the nurse asks if you’ve eaten recently. You indicate you ate less than an hour ago.

Through a miscommunication, the ER staff injects you with a medicine that should never be taken on a full stomach. You aspirate into your oxygen mask, choke, then go into a seizure. 

Thankfully, you recover from the seizure and accident injuries. However, the seizure caused brain damage, leaving you unable to continue working in your profession.

The date the medication and seizure occurred is clear through witnesses and medical records. The statute of limitations is two years from that day.    

Pausing the Clock

However, if the plaintiff did not know about the problem until after the fact, the clock starts when he or she becomes aware of the medical malpractice.

Imagine again that you went to the ER after an auto accident. This time, you need surgical intervention. After surgery, you spend weeks recovering. 

Then, after leaving the hospital, you continue having back pain. Months pass before you see an orthopedic doctor about the back pain. He determines that the surgeon has inserted a screw incorrectly, and you’ll need surgery again to replace it.

The two-year clock remains paused until you receive the diagnosis from the orthopedic doctor. That date is when you became aware of the malpractice.

Gray Area

The question of when the statute of limitations begins can be subject to litigation if the defendant argues that the plaintiff should have known earlier, so the clock should start at an earlier date.

Imagine again you had surgery after an auto accident but experienced back pain after leaving the hospital. It comes and goes, and you try home remedies. Finally, after over two years from the day of the accident, you grow frustrated with the recurring problem and see an orthopedic doctor. The doctor determines that your surgeon misapplied a screw, and you need surgery to replace it.

Clearly, the day you knew is when the orthopedic doctor diagnosed the problem, giving you two years from that day to file a lawsuit. 

However, it’s conceivable that the defense could argue you should have known earlier. All you had to do was report the pain to a physician, and a simple x-ray would have shown the problem; therefore, you “should” have known about the situation more than two years before filing your claim.

The Seven-Year Rule

Pennsylvania law mandates courts to dispose of any lawsuits brought over seven years after the alleged medical error, even if the plaintiff learned of it only after seven years. 

For example, if a patient had surgery and never knew about a misplaced screw until 10 years later, the courts will throw out the case.

A single exception to this hard line exists in Cases where a foreign object was left inside a patient. It may seem difficult to understand how a surgeon could leave a sponge, scissors, scalpel, or other objects inside a patient. Hospitals have stringent procedures requiring them to track each item used in surgery and verify they are outside the body before closing. Yet it is a common medical error.

Even more incomprehensible is that patients can live with foreign objects in their bodies for years without symptoms. Worse, some patients suffer mysterious pains, nearly constant agony and disability. These patients often see doctors to diagnose the mysterious pain, but no one discovers the actual problem until many years later. 

For these reasons, plaintiffs impacted by this unique trauma are exempt from the seven-year rule. 

The Preliminary Stages

A Certificate of Merit must accompany medical malpractice lawsuits. The certificate attests that a qualified medical professional has reviewed the plaintiff’s claim and believes a reasonable probability exists that the healthcare provider's conduct “fell outside acceptable professional standards” and that misconduct resulted in the patient’s harm.   

The law allows a grace period of 60-days after a lawsuit filing to add the certificate to the complaint.

The "appropriate licensed professional" listed on the certificate must have "sufficient education, training, knowledge and experience" to testify at trial as an expert witness. However, plaintiffs can use a different expert witness at trial. 

Post-Medical Review Settlement Opportunities in Pennsylvania

When you hire Mattiacci Law, you gain access to our expertise in medical malpractice settlement and access to an “appropriate licensed Philadelphia medical malpractice settlement lawyer” who can evaluate your case from a physician’s perspective. 

But first, our legal team seeks to understand the case from the most important witness: you.

As the person who experienced your illness or injury, the treatment process, the rehabilitative process, and the impacts of the medical malpractice, you can provide us with the best understanding of the facts and damages. 

Then, our team goes to work investigating the situation and gathering the evidence needed to have the matter evaluated by a medical professional. Finally, based upon your statements and the medical review, we construct our complaint.

Once our case is built, an opportunity exists to settle out-of-court with the provider or healthcare facility. At this juncture, they know we have the evidence to bring a civil action. The other side considers settling because the malpractice insurer knows it’s on the hook for substantial legal fees. 

In addition, medical professionals and healthcare facilities must protect their reputations. They prefer not to have their errors memorialized in public records.

The Discovery Process

However, sometimes the other side remains stubborn. Sometimes it's a matter of money, reputation, or pride. Regardless, we bring the full weight of our evidence down upon them.

Then, we continue building more evidence through the discovery process.

The initial discovery stage gives us the legal power to subpoena additional documents and identify more witnesses.

We then enter the interrogatories stage. During this process, each side of the case prepares written questions for the opposing side’s witnesses. Our mission consists of crafting questions to extract additional evidence from the opposite side’s witnesses and pin down their claims. We carefully review the questions posed to our witnesses and assist them in the process.

With interrogatories in hand, the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer prepares for depositions. Depositions are often seen on T.V. programs and movies. The opposing attorney questions the other side’s witnesses from across a conference table while a court reporter takes a record. All witnesses are placed under oath.

Both the pre-and post-deposition phases open settlement opportunities. The defendants often realize that their case is weak and that continuing through depositions would waste their time and money. In other cases, the deposition process demonstrates to the defense that they cannot win a summary judgment but a trial they will lose.

Proving Providers “Fell Outside Acceptable Medical Standards”

The phrase “fell outside acceptable medical standards” is the operable one in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice settlement lawsuit.

The most conscientious and skilled doctor cannot produce perfect results in all cases. In fact, all physicians face the reality that they can do everything right, and the patient still suffers a bad outcome. There are no miracle workers.

But if results are not a fair standard to hold medical providers to, what is?

The healthcare industry uses acceptable medical standards to create a framework by which healthcare providers can be judged. When a healthcare provider deviates from these standards, he or she faces discipline from superiors. When healthcare providers’ deviation causes harm to a patient, they face a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Proving that the provider violated acceptable standards is the crux of a medical malpractice case. For instance, a sponge left in a person’s body after surgery complies with no medical standards worldwide. The presence of the sponge actually proves the case: Had acceptable medical standards been adhered to, the sponge would not be in the patient’s body!

Other types of claims follow a similar logic, but the issues are far more complex.

Call Today For A Free Consultation From An Experienced Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Settlement Attorney

Mattiacci Law works with medical malpractice settlement experts in the specific medical specialty indicated. These expert witnesses recognize the signs of medical malpractice and attempt to conceal it. Mattiacci Law’s litigators take over the legal aspects of the case, constructing bulletproof arguments that the defense cannot effectively refute.

Many Mattiachi medical malpractice settlement cases settle out of court. The defendants realize their defenses will fail in court. They practiced medicine against their patients’ best interests, and the injured parties deserve just compensation for all aspects of their damages.  

Related Content: Do Most Medical Malpractice Cases End in Settlement?

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