By: James C. Dalton
Statutes of limitation require that legal claims be filed in court within a specific time period after the claim arises. A claim for breach of contract, for example, must be brought within four years of when the breach occurred and a claim for personal injuries due to negligence is subject to a shorter, two year period. Determining how to categorize a particular claim (and the resulting limitation period) is not always a simple matter – is your claim for faulty construction/repair work a contract claim, or, a negligence claim? Or both?
Whether a statute of limitation bars a claim also depends on when the claim arose. Does the period for filing a claim for defective window installation, for example, arise when you signed off on the completed work, or, much later when all of your windows begin leaking? The “Discovery Rule” provides that the limitations period does not start running until a plaintiff knows, or reasonably should have known, that they have suffered a loss or injury due to the conduct of another.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently applied the Discovery Rule to reinstate a patient’s medical malpractice claim in the case of Wilson v. El-Daief. The patient filed suit in October 2003, claiming that her radial nerve was negligently severed during wrist surgery in August 2000. Although the suit was filed over three years after the surgery, the court ruled that the two-year statute of limitations did not automatically start running from the date of surgery. The patient did not know that her pain and symptoms following surgery were due to her surgeon’s negligence until approximately thirteen months later so the case was allowed to be presented to the jury, despite the lapse of over three years since the negligent surgery.
The Wilson case demonstrates that measuring the statute of limitations is not always as simple as looking at a calendar and there may be unique circumstances and legal principles which allow a claim to be pursued. Please contact James C. Dalton, Esq. for further information.