Perhaps your surgery did not have the results you expected, or worse yet, you have suffered significant complications from a procedure. Maybe a loved one has passed away while in the hospital, and no explanation was provided for their unexpected death. Was your child’s spine fracture missed when you first took them to the ER after a fall? Has a second opinion surgeon told you that your spouse’s paralysis could have been avoided with emergency surgery?

When you have been advised, or have a reason to suspect, that you or a loved one have been injured due to negligent care, you should not wait to contact an attorney. Although the harm has already happened, the best time to address the care provided and investigate a potential malpractice claim is as soon as possible, once a concern about medical malpractice is raised.

The reasoning behind the “don’t wait to call an attorney” recommendation lies in understanding something called the “Statute of Limitations.” As is the case in most states, Pennsylvania law has established a time limit for the filing of a medical negligence complaint. That deadline, referred to as the Statute of Limitations, represents the latest possible date when your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf. Under PA law, that deadline is two years after the medical malpractice act or event occurred. Exceptions to this two-year rule exist, most commonly in cases where the victim of medical negligence is a child, and also when the “Discovery Rule” is invoked.

For cases involving a child, the clock doesn’t start ticking until the child reaches their 18th birthday. At that point, they then have two more years before they reach the statute of limitations deadline and can then no longer bring a claim for medical malpractice.

The “discovery rule” exception states that Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations period only begins when a patient or their family first knew, or should have reasonably discovered, that an injury had been caused by negligent medical care. This exception is in place in order to protect patients who had no reason to suspect negligent care initially when it occurred. One hypothetical illustration of this rule in action involves a case where a breast cancer finally diagnosed through testing in 2024 is found to have been present (but was missed) on a prior mammogram in 2020. In that case example, the patient had no reason to suspect she had cancer in 2020, and the concern about possible medical negligence only arose once the cancer was diagnosed in 2024. Although the negligence actually occurred four years ago in 2020, when the mammogram was misread, the discovery rule allows the Statute of Limitation to “toll” until the date that the cancer was diagnosed and the mammogram from 2020 was discovered to have been misread. From that date, the patient and their lawyer have two more years until the deadline for filing the lawsuit.

While two years may sound like a long time, perhaps the most important thing for patients and potential clients to understand is just how long it typically takes an attorney to investigate their case. Once the attorney begins to explore a client’s concerns about the their medical care, it can take several months just to obtain the medical records, and even longer to obtain the required review of those records by a medical expert. It is not unusual for attorneys to spend over a year investigating a potential claim prior to filing suit, especially in medically complex cases. And no attorney or client wants to unnecessarily risk missing a Statute of Limitations deadline, after which they can no longer bring a claim, no matter how meritorious it may be. Because of these concerns, many attorneys will not even accept a claim for review if the Statute of Limitations date is less than 9 months from the beginning of the investigation.

Here’s the take home message: Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney immediately if you’re concerned that you or a loved one have been injured due to medical malpractice. There’s a surprisingly long period of time needed for attorneys to properly investigate your medical care and bring a claim if appropriate. And don’t be fooled by the two-year Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania – that date only sets the last possible day when you attorney can file suit, and always arrives sooner than you think.

Note: The above statements are part of a general discussion blog, are made for educational purposes only, and may not apply to your case. This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice. Reading this blog post or using this website does not create or imply the existence of an attorney-client relationship between you and any attorney of the Bounds Lowe Law firm.