Statute of Limitations in a PA Failure to Diagnosis Malpractice Case – A Hypothetical Case Analysis


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Statute of limitations issues are very common in medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania. It is pretty common for a patient who suspects that malpractice has been committed to avoid doing anything about it. Sadly, it is a normal human reaction to avoid confrontation, even when your health is on the line. In addition, patients want to believe in their doctors, hence the problem of blind obedience or trust. These two factors, avoidance of confrontation and blind trust, may result in a situation where a perfectly valid medical malpractice claim is barred by the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.

Below is a hypothetical situation in which a victim of medical malpractice waits too long and therefore, the statute of limitations becomes a critical issue in the case.

Misdiagnosis of breast cancer hypothetical. A woman obtains her annual mammogram which ends up being misread. The woman is cleared. Months later, she notices a lump in her breast and changes in her health. However, she fails to seek treatment and instead trusts that her annual mammogram was accurate. One year later, she goes for her repeat annual mammogram, which reveals that her cancer has metastasized and spread to her lungs and other internal organs. By the time she consults a lawyer, two years have passed since the date of the first mammogram.

Whether her case is barred by the statute of limitations depends on facts such as:

  • when she first discovered the lump,
  • what she did about it,
  • who she discussed it with/what were her concerns,
  • breast cancer history in the family, and
  • her knowledge and understanding of breast cancer in general.

The key is whether it was unreasonable for the woman in this example to forgo medical care after noticing a lump in her breast. The outcome of the statute of limitations issue depends on the specific facts of the case and in this hypothetical, could go both ways.

Therefore, it is very important for patients and/or their family members to seek advice of a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer who has handled failure to diagnose cases will be able to assess a statute of limitations issue after taking a history from the patient and/or reviewing relevant medical records, films, etc.

Related: Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations in Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose Cases.

It is important to note that medical malpractice cases including misdiagnosis cases, require obtaining a Certificate of Merit. This document requires consulting with a medical expert who affirms that there is a valid claim.


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