The Discovery Rule and the Statute of Limitations

November 29, 2018

Allentown Injury Attorney

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims — unless the defendant is a “public” employee or entity, in which case a separate, stricter set of procedural rules apply — is just two years from the date of injury.

The statute of limitations is essentially a deadline for one’s lawsuit.  Failure to bring an action against the defendant before the deadline passes will result in an abandonment of the claims therein.  Simply put: you will lose your right to litigate your injury dispute in a Pennsylvania court of law should the deadline pass before you file your claims.

There are numerous exceptions to the statute of limitations, however, which can give you extra time.  The Discovery Rule is one such exception, and it is significant.  If the injuries you sustained due to an accident were hidden or otherwise non-obvious, then there’s a good chance that the Discovery Rule is applicable to your lawsuit.

Let’s take a closer look at how it works.

How Does the Discovery Rule Work?

According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Discovery Rule provides that “where the existence of the injury is not known to the complaining party and such knowledge cannot be reasonably ascertained within the prescribed statutory period, the limitations period does not begin to run until the discovery of the injury is reasonably possible.”  Stated another way, the statute of limitations period will not begin to count down until the plaintiff either becomes aware of the injury at issue, or reasonably should have become aware of the injury.

Suppose, for example, that you are involved in a slip-and-fall accident in the defendant’s department store.  The accident does not cause an immediately observable injury.  You even go to the doctor for a check-up after the injury, and the doctor does not believe that any damage has been done.

As it turns out, however, the slip-and-fall exacerbated your spinal degenerative condition, causing additional functional impairments.  This does not become noticeable until two years down the line, after the standard statute of limitations period has passed.  Given the circumstances of the injury (and that it was not reasonably ascertainable within the statute of limitations period), you would likely be entitled to apply the Discovery Rule and pursue an action for damages.

Reasonable Diligence and the Discovery Rule

In Pennsylvania, the Discovery Rule may only be applied if the plaintiff can prove that they did not know (or could not have known) about the injury, despite exercising reasonable diligence to discover an injury.  What constitutes reasonable diligence depends on the nature of the accident that caused the injury, as well as the symptoms of the injury.  For example, reasonable diligence after a car accident would entail going to a doctor for a thorough evaluation.  By contrast, reasonable diligence after a minor slip-and-fall might not require a comprehensive medical evaluation.

Contact an Experienced Allentown Injury Attorney for a Free and Confidential Consultation

Here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC, our attorneys have over three decades of experience representing the interests of personal injury plaintiffs in a range of disputes, from motor vehicle accidents to slip-and-fall premises liability cases.  We understand what it takes to win a challenging personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania, and how to resolve a case (pre-litigation) in an efficient and favorable manner.  If a negotiated compromise is not possible, then we are willing and able to aggressively pursue the case to trial.

Unlike many of our competitors, we are dedicated to the provision of legal representation that has a “personal touch.”  This is more than just marketing-speak — we believe that by closely collaborating with our clients from the beginning of the litigation process, we can glean valuable insight that enables us to act quickly and decisively on their behalf.  Over the decades, this approach has helped us secure tens of millions of dollars in compensation for our clients.

If you’d like to speak to an experienced Allentown injury attorney about your claims, call (610) 433-3910 or send us a message online to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of the team here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC.