How Long Do You Have to Sue in a Wrongful Death and Survival Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?
In any personal injury or wrongful death case, the law only gives you a limited period of time in which to assert your rights and seek compensation. Wait too long and your opponent is entitled to seek (and obtain) a dismissal of your case. In any type of wrongful death case, then, it is important to act with all due speed. That includes retaining an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney to provide you with representation in your case.
While the law does limit the amount of time that you have to sue, and it is important to act within that timeframe, it is also important not to let your opponent “start the clock” in your case before it’s time. One recent case that offered useful information about the statute of limitations in wrongful death and survival actions was a tragic story from southeast Pennsylvania.
The specific facts of the case involved allegations of medical/nursing home neglect, but the resolution of the case matters for anyone who might need to bring a lawsuit asserting claims of wrongful death and survival related to medical professional negligence. In the case, Elise was admitted to the hospital in the summer of 2005 after a fall at home. Two weeks later, she was moved to a nursing home. Elise’s doctor ordered a flexor bed and frequent repositioning to deal with her bedsores.
The staff at the nursing home didn’t follow the doctor’s orders, and Elise’s bedsores got worse. In fact, one of the bedsores located along her lower back, which she originally got during her hospital stay in 2005, increased in size from 2005 to 2007, until, in July 2007, Elise developed sepsis after bacteria from her body waste entered the bedsore. By mid-October, Elise had died from sepsis and multiple bedsores.
Robert, who was the administrator of Elise’s estate, sued various individuals and entities for wrongful death and survival in 2009. Specifically, he filed his complaint on Aug. 13 of that year. The trial court awarded $2 million in damages, which was $125,000 for wrongful death, $1 million for survival, and $875,000 in punitive damages.
In appealing the verdict, the defendants argued that the correct statute of limitations for survival actions was two years and that the limitations period had long expired prior to Robert’s Aug. 13, 2009 complaint. Specifically, they argued that the time began running when Elise was first injured by the hospital during her stay of July-August 2005. That would have meant that the period for filing a lawsuit would have ended in August 2007.
The Superior Court did not accept that argument, instead ruling to uphold the trial court’s verdict in favor of Elise’s estate. The state Supreme Court later ruled that the lower courts were correct. When a case that asserts claims for wrongful death and survival has as its factual basis a claim that the injuries were a result of medical professional negligence, the “clock” on the limitations period only begins to run when the patient dies. That start date is the same for both the wrongful death claim and the survival claim.
In other words, the statute of limitations gave Robert until October 2009 to bring his lawsuit alleging wrongful death and survival damages. Since he filed in mid-August of 2009, he was not too late and was entitled to the judgment awarded by the trial court.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of others, especially those entrusted to provide medical care, the law may provide you with an opportunity to recover damages. In this heart-wrenching and stressful time, you’re probably not thinking about your legal rights. Capable legal counsel can help. The compassionate and diligent Pennsylvania wrongful death attorneys at Needle Law Firm can provide you with the legal representation you need to protect your rights.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 570-344-1266.