The general rule in Pennsylvania is for any case arising from a personal injury claim involving injuries to an adult is that the injured party has two years to file a law suit against any individuals or companies that they believe are responsible for their accident. There are a few exceptions to this rule, including cases involving minors, wherein the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the minor reaches the age of 18. Likewise, in certain medical malpractice cases the two year statute of limitations can be extended if the injured person did not become aware that they were a victim of medical malpractice until sometime after the day the malpractice occurred. For example, a victim of a surgical error may not learn that the surgery was performed negligently until several months later when they realize that the surgeon had made an error during the surgery.
A recent Superior Court opinion in Pennsylvania may have also extended the statute of limitations in automobile accident cases for claims involving an injured party who was subject to “limited tort status” at the time of the accident.
For those who are not already aware, under Pennsylvania law, when purchasing automobile insurance you are required to choose whether you are “limited tort” or “full tort.” People who elect full tort on their automobile insurance coverage are entitled to all forms of damages under Pennsylvania law regardless of the severity of their injuries. However, individuals who elect limited tort on their automobile insurance coverage may only make a claim for pain and suffering when they can prove that they have suffered a “serious impairment of a bodily function.” Proving that someone has suffered injuries sufficient to recover damages in a limited tort case requires the testimony or reports from a medical doctor.
In the case of Varner-Mort v. Kapfhammer, decided in January of 2015, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the statute of limitations in limited tort cases may not actually begin to run until it can be determined that the plaintiff’s injuries do represent a serious impairment of a bodily function. In other words, the Court held that like in medical malpractice case, the deadline for filing a lawsuit in a limited tort case can potentially be extended beyond two-years from the date of the injury if the injured person was not able to learn that they had suffered sufficient injuries to make a claim for pain and suffering under the limited tort requirements.
In its published opinion, the Superior Court expressed how reluctant it was to reach this opinion. The Court was bound to follow a 1997 opinion in Walls v. Scheckler, which also held that the issue of whether or not the Plaintiff knew their injuries were serious enough to file a lawsuit on the date of the accident is a question for a jury to decide. In uncommonly strongly language, the Varner-Mort Court called the Walls opinion “just plain wrong” but were bound to follow it anyway.
Despite the Superior Court’s holding, at Galfand Berger we strongly recommend to anyone injured in an automobile accident that they contact an experienced car accident lawyer in Philadelphia immediately to protect their rights. We do not recommend that any injured person assume that the deadlines for filing a lawsuit for their injuries or damages will be delayed, regardless of the recent Varner-Mort opinion. If you have any questions about your legal rights arising from an accident, please call our Philadelphia personal injury law firm at 800-222-8792 or contact us online.