On November 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a decision in Dubose v. Quinlan, 2017 WL 5616235 (Pa., Nov. 22, 2017), holding that the two-year statute of limitations for medical professional negligence wrongful death and survival actions begins to run two years from the date of death, not two years from the date of injury or reasonable discovery of the injury. The Court held that pursuant to Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE Act), both a survival action and wrongful death action in a medical professional liability lawsuit begin to accrue at the time of death, which is a departure from the general negligence statute of limitations. See 42 Pa.C.S. Section 5524(2).
By way of brief factual background, this medical professional liability lawsuit was brought by the Executor of the Estate of Elise Dubose, a resident of defendant nursing facility. The allegations in the Complaint centered on the alleged development and deterioration of pressure ulcers, among other ailments. The Complaint was filed within two years of the date of the resident’s death, but not within two years from the date of development of the alleged pressure ulcers. The trial court held that the survival action was timely filed within two years of the date of death pursuant to Section 513(d) of the MCARE Act and, alternatively, was timely filed pursuant to the discovery rule.
On appeal, the Superior Court upheld the trial court’s determination that the plaintiff’s survival action was timely under Section 513(d), which states:
(d) Death or survival actions. — If the claim is brought under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301 (relating to death action) or 8302 (relating to survival action), the action must be commenced within two years after the death in the absence of affirmative misrepresentation or fraudulent concealment of the cause of death.
In affirming the Superior Court’s decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that pursuant to Section 513(d), a survival action in a medical professional liability case resulting in death accrues at the time of death, not at the time of the decedent’s injury. The Court reasoned that the “plain language” of Section 513(d) sets forth a statute of limitations, rather than a statute of repose that would instead function to provide an outer limit of the time in which an action could be filed.1 The Court stated that the language of Section 513(d) mirrors “traditional statute of limitation language,” focusing on the time in which the plaintiff must sue, rather than the defendant’s conduct. The Court held that 513(d) establishes a specific statute of limitations for medical professional liability cases which prevails over the general statute of limitations of 42 Pa.C.S. Section 5524(2).
Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Baer dissented from the majority’s interpretation of Section 513(d).2 The Justices noted that Section 513(d) did not reflect an intention on the part of the Legislature to alter the nature and accrual of the survival cause of action. Rather, the Legislature intended to codify the existing “outside limitation” on the filing of a survival action. As noted by the Justices, under the majority’s application of Section 513(d), the statute of limitations is extended, potentially for several years, until two years after the plaintiff’s death. This decision may lengthen, potentially significantly, the time in which plaintiffs can file a survival action for medical professional liability claims.