Reibenstein v. Charles Barax MD, 2022 WL 17577629 (Pa. 2022) (Dec. 12, 2022)

Only an affirmative misrepresentation or fraudulent concealment of the actual medical cause of death will toll the two-year statute of limitations for survival or wrongful death cases.

The trial court granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death case because the matter was initiated after MCARE’s two-year statute of limitations period had run. 

The plaintiff had only realized the defendant’s potential culpability during discovery in a case against another medical provider, but there had been no affirmative representation or fraudulent concealment of the medical cause of death, which was undisputedly noted in the plaintiff’s decedent’s death certificate. 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, holding that the phrase “cause of death” in MCARE’s tolling provision was ambiguous. The Superior Court concluded that the provision should be read to serve the Legislature’s intent of ensuring fair compensation and ultimately held that, in addition to deliberately hiding the cause of death, the tolling provision also applied to deliberate misrepresentations or concealment of conduct that the plaintiff alleges led to the decedent’s death. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order and reinstated the grant of summary judgment, holding that the discovery rule begins to run upon the discovery of an injury and the possibility it was caused by malpractice, but not necessarily whose malpractice. In death cases, death itself is the watershed event that triggers the two-year statute limitations and the plaintiff’s duty of inquiry. The two-year statute of limitations in death cases can only be tolled by concealment or affirmative misrepresentation of the medical cause of death. 

Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2023 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2032 Marshall Dennehey, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.