Medical Malpractice and Statute of Limitations

My father (now deceased) was a Pediatrician. He retired many years ago (between 15 and 20… I don’t recall off the top of my head…). But I know that in Pennsylvania (where he practiced), the clock for the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases doesn’t start running until a minor reaches 18; then, it’s 2 years like everyone else.

So, in theory, this means that a newborn could suffer from medical malpractice, and that patient could wait until the day before his or her 20th birthday to file suit. (I think.)

So… as a doctor, you’re never free and clear of the threat of malpractice litigation until all your minor patients have turned 20? Can people sidestep the SOL and bring suit against doctors under other charges than “malpractice”—i.e., “wrongful death,” etc.?

I assume that a deceased physician’s estate can still be sued within the SOL. I heard something about malpractice suits today and it made me think of the horrible possibility of my mother someday having to defend a suit brought by one of my dad’s patients from eons ago.

Lot of things to consider here, and I’m only going to address part of them. Whether his estate can be sued will probably depend in part on how he organized his business. If he was part of an LLC, and that business entity still existed, it would likely be the main target of the suit. Depending on other factors, it might be possible to “pierce the corporate veil” and target him/his estate personally as well. If he carried malpractice insurance, and the carrier still exists, they might have a duty to defend the suit and pay for damages awarded up to his coverage limit.

for the legally retarded…

is there really a serious threat to an individual, say me, if my chiropractor grandfather left me a (hypothetical…I freakin wish)$100K in his will. Will is executed, money transferred to me, taxes paid, and they can still go after me even though I had pretty much nothing to do with this nor would there be any expectation that I would take responsibility for any other bills he may have incurred.

I understand that the estate is going to generally pay its bills before it pays out inheritances but that seems screwy.

If he donated $100,000 to a small NPO (lets say a cat rescue) as part of his will would they turn around and gut that NPO over it. What if they spent the money expanding their facilities?

Even wrongful death actions have SOLs. Anybody who has a claim against a decedent must present his or her claim during the probate proceedings. Once the estate is closed, that’s the end of it. The devisees/legatees or heirs (if no will) need not fear any of the deceased’s former creditors, as they all must be paid out of the estate. I don’t think your mother should have any concerns in that respect, but I’m not an expert in probate law.

This is horrible legal analysis. Professional malpractice attaches directly to the professional committing the malpractice - you can’t corporate shield your way around it like other types of torts.

Could you cite some U.S. law on point? I’m looking around trying to educate myself, and so far, I found this quote:

*The key limitation of this paper, and the databank, Chandra says, “is a loophole called the ‘corporate shield,’ which allows the name of an individual physician to be dropped from a lawsuit.” When that happens, the payment doesn’t appear in the NPDB. *

found here
which suggests to me that a doctor may be able to use the corporate shield.

I’m also curious about why so many lawyers operate as LLCs if the shield doesn’t apply…

Here’s a bankruptcy opinion that granted summary judgment preventing a plaintiff from pursuing an attempt to pierce the corporate veil for wrongful death, medical malpractice, and negligence because that would expose property of the bankruptcy estate.

Advocare v. Walker

Don’t know about other states, but in California, some licensed professionals must choose a business entity form that allows personal liability for licensed services. So, for example, CA has an entity called a Professional Corporation. This will shield you from liability for non-service related liability, but it has either no shield or a limited shield for service liability. It varies from profession to profession exactly how this gets implemented (some professions are required to carry insurance or have bond requirements rather than entity requirements). I don’t know off-hand what the exact requirement is for medical professionals, but I know they are one of the categories of licensed professionals which can form a Professional Corporation.

Aha. “Professional Corporation” was the search term I needed. Using that, I confirmed that my state is similar to California, and that Rumor_Watkins is correct, my earlier analysis was horrible. My bad.