The Discovery Rule In Regards to Statute of Limitations In Wrongful Death Cases
In Pastierik v. Duquesne Light Company, 514 Pa. 517, 526 A.2d 323 (1987), the Supreme Court refused to apply the discovery rule to wrongful death or survival actions. Pastierik, 514 Pa. at 525, 526 A.2d at 327. Because Section 5524(2) and Section 5502(a) govern the statute of limitations for wrongful death, survival, and personal injury actions, the plaintiff in Pastierik argued, as plaintiffs do in the present case, that the discovery rule should apply equally to all of those actions. Pastierik, 514 Pa. at 521, 526 A.2d at 325.
The Pastierik court rejected this argument, noting that extending the application of the discovery rule to wrongful death actions would "greatly expand, theoretically to infinity, the time period during which wrongful death actions could be brought." Pastierik, 514 Pa. at 521, 526 A.2d at 325-326.
This, the court stated, was not the intent of the legislature in enacting the statute of limitations because death, which is a "definitely established event," puts survivors on clear notice to exercise reasonable diligence to discover the cause, and, therefore, is significantly different from personal injury, which "may be inflicted without immediate symptoms or immediately determinable causes." Pastierik, 514 Pa. at 522, 526 A.2d at 326.
The court also recognized that extensive scientific examinations, including autopsy, which are not restrained in scope as would be examinations of living persons, can be (and often are) performed on a deceased tort victim to discover the cause of death and whether wrongful conduct was involved. Id.
Thus, the discovery rule is not needed in a wrongful death case to prevent the statute of limitations from working an injustice on a reasonably diligent plaintiff.
Accordingly, the court rejected the application of the discovery rule to wrongful death actions. Id.