Tort Statutes of Limitations in Pennsylvania

We get a lot of calls and a lot of questions about the Statute of Limitations.

A Statute of Limitations is a law passed by the Government which sets forth the maximum amount of time after an event within which legal proceedings related to that event must be initiated.  The Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations are set forth in Chapter 55 of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Statutes (42 PA. C.S.A. §5501, et. seq.)

If the Plaintiff in a Civil matter fails to file his or her lawsuit within the applicable Statute of Limitations period, the claim is forever barred.

Obviously, Law Firms spend a bit of effort keeping track of Statutes of Limitations in order to make sure important filing deadlines aren’t missed.  For example, here at JMF, we have a double check system.  When a new tort case is accepted for handling, we mark the statute date in our computer calendaring system, and we mark the statute date conspicuously on the file cover so that if the computers go down, the information is still available.

Here are some common tort types and the applicable Statutes of Limitations as of the date of this writing (June, 2016).

Type of Case Time Limit Section
Assault 2 years 42 PA. C.S.A. §5524(1)
Libel/Slander 1 Year 42 PA. C.S.A. §5523(1)
Personal Injury 2 Years 42 PA. C.S.A. §5524(2)
Product Liability 2 Years 42 PA. C.S.A. §5524(7)
Medical Malpractice 2 Years 42 PA. C.S.A. §5524(2)
Wrongful Death 2 Years 42 PA. C.S.A. §5524(2)

The general rule is that the statute of limitations time period begins to run on the date of the event giving rise to the claim, however there are exceptions that can drastically effect when a statute runs, and therefore, when it ends.

A couple factors can extend, or even shorten the statute of limitations, for example, if a minor is injured, the time period begins to run on the minor’s 18th birthday1.  If Pennsylvania, or one of its subdivisions is the defendant, the statute of limitations doesn’t change, but the injured party must give special notice of the claim to the government within six months2 of the injury, or the claim will be barred by another law, even though the statute of limitations has not run.

Another factor that can drastically enlarge the time period within which suit must be brought is what is called the Discovery Rule.  In most cases people know exactly when they are hurt and therefore the limitations period is calculated from the date of injury – for example, if a car hit you, you would notice that.  There are some types of injury that you might not notice as they occur.  The classic example is asbestos, people didn’t know they were being hurt until years, or even decades later when the asbestos conspiracy was discovered.  In those cases, the limitations period runs from the date on which you discover that you are injured.

Obviously the above are some general guidelines but are not even intended to be a complete guide to calculating the limitations period in any particular set of facts.  If you have a question about the statute of limitation that may affect your case, give us a call.  412-521-2000

1 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5533
2 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5522(a)