What they are
Statutes of limitations are laws that determine how long a person can wait to bring a lawsuit after an incident that creates a legal claim. For example, if you are a party to a written contract governed by Pennsylvania law and the other party violates the contract, the Pennsylvania statute of limitations requires you to bring a lawsuit to enforce your agreement within four years after the breach. If you miss the 4-year deadline, you are prevented from ever making that legal claim.
Different time limits for different kinds of claims
For personal injury cases, the time limits in Pennsylvania are different depending on the type of claim the plaintiff has:
- Most claims involving negligence must be brought within two years after the accident or injury.
- Claims for wrongful death and survival based upon damages suffered by the deceased and his or her family members because of the negligence of others must be brought within two years after the death of the victim.
- Claims involving medical malpractice must be brought within two years after the potential plaintiff knows or has reason to know about his or her injury (the so-called “discovery rule”), but a claim for medical malpractice cannot be brought more than seven years after the procedure or incident that caused the injury.
- If a medical malpractice claim involves a foreign object left in the plaintiff’s body, the seven-year time limit does not apply.
- If a medical malpractice plaintiff is a minor (under 18 years old), the claim can be brought not later than the victim’s 20th birthday.
- Personal injury claims from asbestos exposure must be brought within two years after the plaintiff is informed by a doctor that he or she has been injured from such exposure.
- Workers’ compensation claims have multiple deadlines associated with them:
- Work-related injuries must be reported to employers within 120 days after the date of the injury.
- Claims must be filed not later than three years after the injury date.
- There are some exceptions to these time limits in cases where the injury or occupational disease takes an extended period of time to develop — an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can advise you on your particular situation.
“Discovery rule” can extend the time period
There are situations when a potential plaintiff does not know immediately that he has been injured or that a prior incident caused the injury.
For example, a passenger involved in a car accident may believe that he escaped the incident unscathed but may begin experiencing muscle pain, numbness and other health problems months or years later. It may take additional time to obtain medical exams and test results to confirm that the prior car accident is the reason for his health issues.
For this reason, the law recognizes the so-called “discovery rule” that extends a statute of limitations if a plaintiff was reasonably delayed in discovering his injury or its cause.
So, for example, if the normal car accident personal injury statute of limitations is two years, the discovery rule could allow a passenger involved in the accident to sue four years later if a court determines that the extra time he needed to discovery his injury and its cause is reasonable.
Policy reasons for statutes of limitation
There are several legitimate policy reasons why statutes of limitation exist:
- They encourage potential plaintiffs to be diligent about asserting their claims and to not “sit on their rights.”
- Evidence is generally more reliable if it is produced sooner after an event than later.
- Witnesses are more likely to remember important details if less time has gone by.
- Physical evidence like handwritten notes and medical specimens are more likely to be in better condition if they have had less time to degrade or deteriorate.
- To prevent potential defendants from being subject to liability — or threats of lawsuits — indefinitely.
Aversa & Linn can help if you’ve been injured at work, in a car accident, or because of unsafe property, botched medical procedure, or defective product. Call us at 215-751-1717 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.