Saturday, November 9, 2019

Pennsylvania Supreme Court declares med mal statute of repose unconstitutonal

About two weeks ago, in a 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that a 7-year statute of repose for medical malpractice, enacted in 2002 as part of a "tort reform" effort is unconstitutional.  The court found the statute violated the right of access to the courts and had no substantial relationship to the legislative goal of controlling malpractice insurance costs and premiums.  Courts in at least 6 other states--Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Utah--have also held med mal statutes of repose to be unconstitutional.  The case is called Yanakos v UPMC and you can read the opinion here.

Here are a few key passages from the opinion:
...we conclude the governmental interest in controlling the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance premiums and of medical care is important. However, the MCARE Act’s statute of repose as enacted is not substantially related to achieving those goals.
. . . .
The effect of the seven-year repose period for most medical malpractice actions is to limit the “discovery rule” to seven years.  In most cases, if a malpractice victim discovers the injury and its cause within seven years, the victim may bring a timely lawsuit; however, after seven years, the statute of repose bars the victim’s action. Additionally, foreign objects cases are exempt from the statute of repose, and minors can file a lawsuit either seven years from the date of injury or until their twentieth birthday, whichever is later.  Thus, the statute of repose prevents most medical malpractice victims, except foreign objects plaintiffs and certain minors, from exercising the constitutional right to a remedy after seven years.
. . . .
In this case, there was no evidence to show the initially proposed four-year statute of repose would provide actuarial certainty, except that it “seemed like a reasonable resolution” to “provide some stability and predictability” to insurers. . . .  Moreover, there is no evidence in the legislative history as to how the General Assembly arrived at a seven-year statute of repose with exceptions for foreign objects cases and minors. The legislature did not cite any statistics on the number of medical malpractice actions that are commenced after seven years of the occurrence giving rise to the action.  There is no indication that such a time period, as opposed to a longer or shorter period, will have any effect on malpractice insurance costs.  Likewise, the parties in their current briefing failed to suggest the seven-year repose period has any substantial relationship to the legislative goal of controlling
malpractice insurance costs. 

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