Last updated: November 18, 2015 | Published: May 30, 2012
In 2003, Pennsylvania medical malpractice law was changed in a significant way. In response to lobbying efforts of various medical professional groups and the insurance industry, the Pennsylvania legislature joined a number of states which require what is known as an “affidavit of merit” or “certificate of merit.”
A certificate of merit is a document filled out by the patient’s lawyer. It is required in every professional malpractice case and is not limited to medical malpractice cases. The law applies to tort cases against all licensed professionals, doctors and lawyers alike.
The main problem with this requirement is that most patients do not realize that they have an actual case of medical negligence until the statute of limitations has almost expired. The certificate of merit requirement makes bringing a medical or surgical malpractice case that much more difficult.
The certificate must be filed within 60 days of the filing of a medical malpractice complaint. The plaintiff’s lawyer must affirm that he or she has consulted with an expert who has provided a written opinion that there is a valid claim of negligence against the defendant. Additional certificates may be needed for each defendant.
Here’s how a certificate gets filed in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuit:
1. Patient-plaintiff consults with a medical malpractice lawyer.
2. The lawyer obtains and reviews all relevant medical records.
3. The lawyer seeks a consultation with an expert in the same field to determine whether the medical professional made an error which fell below the standard of care.
4. The lawyer speaks to the plaintiff about the results of the expert’s review.
5. The patient-plaintiff decides to move forward with a medical malpractice lawsuit.
6. The lawyer files a complaint or civil action.
7. The lawyer files a certificate of merit within 60 days of the filing of the complaint.
Unfortunately, 60 days is hardly enough time to decide on an appropriate expert, let alone get all records and have them reviewed by that expert. Many medical malpractice cases involve multiple doctors, which means multiple certificates of merit will be required.
Recent Article (May 2015): Law article discusses hospital malpractice lawsuits in Philadelphia, which is home to nearly a dozen hospitals and emergency rooms. Surgeons, radiologists, hospital pharmacists, etc., can be held liable.
Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations in Medical or Surgical Malpractice Cases
By the time a patient consults with a lawyer, the statute of limitations may be approaching and quickly, and unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations is by no means patient-friendly. Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases begins ticking the date that the patient knew of or should have known of some form of harm or error. The statute of limitations won’t be tolled until there is an actual confirmation of the negligence. In other words, the statute of limitations will begin ticking when the patient had some reasonable knowledge of the error, not when there is an actual confirmation of the error.
In cases of surgical malpractice, it is especially difficult to pinpoint when the statute of limitations began ticking. This is compounded by the certificate of merit requirement. That’s why it is crucial to have the case reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Pennsylvania as soon as possible.
To submit your case for review by our medical malpractice lawyers, call 800.220.7600. Our lawyers are available for a free, no obligation legal consultation, and can obtain special admission in other states, such as New York or Delaware, on a case by case basis.
**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.