The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Rules MCARE Statute of Repose Unconstitutional
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an important decision in the sphere of medical malpractice by deeming the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act’s statute of repose unconstitutional. The statute of repose maintains that one cannot file a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania unless the claim was filed within seven (7) years from the date of the alleged act of malpractice.
The MCARE statute of repose is outlined in 40 P.S. § 1303.513:
(a)General rule. –
Except as provided in subsection (b) or (c), no cause of action asserting a medical professional liability claim may be commenced after seven years from the date of the alleged tort or breach of contract.
(b)Injuries caused by foreign object. –
If the injury is or was caused by a foreign object unintentionally left in the individual’s body, the limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply.
(c)Injuries to minors. –
No cause of action asserting medical professional liability claim may be commenced by or on behalf of a minor after seven years from the date of the alleged tort or breach of contract or after the minor attains the age of 20 years, whichever is later.
(d)Death or survival actions.—
If the claim is brought under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8391 (relating to death action) or 8302 (relating to survival action), the action must be commenced within two years after the death in the absence of affirmative misrepresentation or fraudulent concealment of the cause of death.
No cause of action barred prior to the effective date of this section shall be reviewed by reason of the enactment of this section.
For purposes of this sections, a “minor” is an individual who has yet attained the age of 18 years.
40 P.S. § 1303.513
In the case Yanakos v. UPMC
, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (4-3 decision) struck down the seven (7) year limitation for filing a medical malpractice claim as unconstitutional. In Yanakos
, the alleged malpractice occurred in 2003 when Christopher Yanakos volunteered to donate part of his liver to his mother. As part of the process, Christopher Yanakos underwent numerous tests, which indicated that he was having liver issues. The plaintiffs alleged that the findings that Christopher Yanakos’ liver was not properly functioning should have disqualified him as a donor. Furthermore, the plaintiffs claimed that they were not aware of those results and/or Christopher Yanakos’ liver issues until 2014 when both Christopher Yanakos and his mother were suffering from an advanced liver disease. As such, the plaintiffs filed a negligence and lack of informed consent suit against UPMC claiming that the findings from the 2003 evaluation should have disqualified and prevented Christopher Yanakos as a donor.
Originally, the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas denied the plaintiffs’ challenge of the MCARE statute and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The plaintiffs then filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to determine whether MCARE Act’s seven (7) year statute of repose violated the Pennsylvania Constitution.
In review of those rulings, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania applied an intermediate scrutiny standard to determine the constitutionality of the MCARE Act’s statute of repose. Subsequently, the Court ruled that “the seven-year statute of repose, with exceptions for foreign objects cases and minors, is not substantially related to controlling the cost of malpractice insurance rates by providing actuarial predictability to insurers.” Yanakos v. UPMC
, No. 10 WAP 2018, 2019 WL 5608534, at *11 (Pa. Oct. 31, 2019). As part of the Court’s findings, the Court found the government does have an important interest in controlling and managing the costs of medical malpractice insurance and medical care, but the MCARE statute of repose was not substantially related in achieving the important interest.
Going forward, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling in Yanakos v. UPMC
will have a major impact on the viability of potential claims.