The Yanakos family will be able to move forward with their lawsuit against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling that the seven-year statute of repose barred the case from moving forward.
Repose v. Limitation
You’re likely familiar with a statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit. A statute of repose, which you likely have never heard of, is almost the same thing. It, too, is a statute that places a time limit of when lawsuits can be commenced. However, it is a definitive amount of time regardless of when the injury was discovered.
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania is two years. That means, you have two years from the time you discovered the injury to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The statute of repose, on the other hand, is seven years. That means, you have seven years total from the date the medical malpractice occurred to file a lawsuit.
For example, if John Doe had surgery on January 1, 2010, and he discovers on January 1, 2012 that the doctor left a sponge inside of him, he would have two years to file his lawsuit. So, as long as he filed his lawsuit before January 1, 2014, he would be within the two-year statute of limitations and within the seven-year repose limit. If he didn’t discover that the sponge was left inside him until January 2, 2017, however, he would not be able to file his lawsuit because he would be outside the time limit under the statute of repose.
The Yanakos Lawsuit
Susan Yanakos suffered from AATD and needed a liver transplant. AATD, or alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic condition in which the liver fails to produce a protein that protects tissues throughout the body. As a result, her liver was damaged, and she needed a liver transplant. The doctors at UPMC deemed her son, Christopher, an appropriate donor. Christopher was tested for AATD because it is a genetic disease, but neither he nor his mother was ever informed of the results of that test. They simply assumed he was fine since he was allowed to donate part of his liver to his mother. In 2003, the transplant took place and was declared a success.
In 2015, however, it was discovered that Christopher did, in fact, have AATD. While both Christopher and his mother are alive today, Christopher will need a liver transplant in the future, and it could be a very difficult procedure since his liver was altered as a result of donating a lobe to his mother.
The Yanakos family filed their lawsuit in 2015, but the trial court dismissed the case due to the fact that it had been more than seven years since the procedure took place. The family appealed the ruling, but the appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision. That’s when the case went on to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ruled that the seven-year statute of repose violates Pennsylvania’s constitution by denying access to the courts.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling does not mean the Yanakos family wins its case; it simply means that the family has the right to file their lawsuit.