Yanakos v. UPMC, 2019 Pa. LEXIS 6129 (Oct. 31, 2019)

The MCARE Act’s seven-year statute of repose struck down as unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

While the facts of this case are disputed due to the fact that the trial court granted a judgment on the pleadings, according to the complaint, the plaintiff-son donated a portion of his liver to the plaintiff-mother who was suffering from Alpha-Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). The defendants performed extensive testing on the son to ensure he was a suitable liver donor and ordered additional testing upon learning that AATD ran in his family. The son never received the additional laboratory results, which allegedly showed he had AATD. The plaintiffs filed suit eleven years later, after the mother underwent testing that revealed she still had AATD, which theoretically should have been eliminated as a result of the liver transplant. Because the suit was filed after the seven-year statute of repose period had already expired, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the seven-year statute of repose was unconstitutional under the Open Courts clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The court determined that a citizen’s right to a remedy enumerated in Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is an “important” right, rather than a “fundamental” one. Because the MCARE Act’s seven-year statute of repose curtailed the “important” right to a remedy, the court applied “intermediate scrutiny,” which requires the statute to be substantially related to the important governmental interest. In so doing, the court concluded that the statute was not substantially related to achieving the important government interest of “control[ling] medical malpractice premium rates by providing actuarial certainty.” The court noted that the defendants failed to provide any evidence that the repose period, as opposed to a longer or shorter period, had any effect on malpractice insurance costs. The court also took issue with the statute’s “foreign objects and minors” exceptions, opining that those exceptions were further evidence that the statute was not substantially related to providing actuarial predictability to insurers. Consequently, the MCARE Act’s statute of repose, which barred plaintiffs from bringing suit more than seven years from the date of the defendant’s last culpable act or omission, has been struck down as unconstitutional.


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