There has been extensive debate over a potential new rule proposed by the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania regarding where medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed. While the enacting of that rule has been tabled for the time being (pending investigation by a legislative research office), it may return. Knowing the facts behind the rule change, as well as different perspectives on it, remains important for Pennsylvania residents.
Planned Medical Malpractice Rule Change
Since 2002, Pennsylvania law required that attorneys file medical malpractice lawsuits in the same county where the alleged malpractice incident occurred. However, an attempt has been made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to change that rule so that the lawsuit could be filed in counties with ties to the lawsuit, such as where the defendant in the lawsuit resides or where the health system involved has its offices.
Lawyers were pleased with this proposed rule change because it seems as if many counties overwhelmingly favor doctors in such lawsuits. By allowing more choice as to where the suit is filed, the playing field will be more even, so to speak. Some counties appear to be strongly against medical malpractice lawsuits and have a record of consistently supporting the defendant. Plaintiffs would have a better chance of a fair trial if they have more than one county to choose from when it comes time to file the lawsuit. Trial lawyers have also pointed out that there are no other industries in Pennsylvania that face these types of venue restrictions for civil lawsuits.
The Perspective of Health Providers: Venue Shopping
Healthcare providers, on the other hand, referred to the proposed change as a blatant return to “venue shopping,” where lawyers and plaintiffs choose the county in which to file their lawsuit based on its favorability to the plaintiff without regard to whether that county is involved in the lawsuit. Lawyers, on the other hand, pointed out that the available venues are still limited, making venue shopping highly unlikely.
However, healthcare providers were also concerned about the potential side effects of this rule, one of which would be a significant increase in the number of malpractice lawsuits filed. If plaintiffs could find counties in which they had an advantage, they would be far more likely to file frivolous malpractice lawsuits. This, in turn, could cause increases malpractice insurance for medical providers and rising costs passed on to patients. Health professionals also pointed out that this abuse of medical malpractice lawsuits was what led to the rule in the first place.
Attorneys responded to this claim by stating that the excessive number of so-called frivolous lawsuits that were filed was not because of lax filing venue rules but rather a timely combination of bad doctors, corrupt medical malpractice insurance, and unstable interest rates. Further, due to the current restrictions on where these lawsuits can take place, there are many people with valid claims who do not seek legal recourse because they believe they will lose anyway.
By the Numbers
According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s data for 2017, there were 102 lawsuits filed that went before a jury, but only 21 were in favor of the plaintiff. The number of lawsuits filed was significantly down from 2000 (shortly before the original venue rule was enacted). However, the Pennsylvania Medical Society attributes this change not to the elimination of venue shopping but rather a combination of rising litigation costs, alternative means of resolving such cases (such as arbitration), and the requirement that an expert provide a statement that the medical procedures involved fell well outside standard acceptable treatment methods.
The rule change was supported by the Democratic majority in the Supreme Court, siding with trial lawyers claiming that the current rules made it impossible to find impartial juries in certain counties, including more rural counties with a very limited jury pool. Republicans, both in the court and in the legislature, stood with the health professionals and requested a delay in the Supreme Court’s decision until more research into potential issues surrounding the rule could be investigated.
As of February 14, 2019, the Supreme Court has postponed this proposed rule change pending review by a legislative research office. This means that the change regarding venue rules has not been fully withdrawn, but rather that more research into it will be done. This postponement was at the behest of Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania legislature.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania proposed a law relaxing the rules regarding the venues for filing medical malpractice lawsuits but met with considerable resistance from medical professionals and Republican legislators. While strongly favored by trial lawyers and Democratic state legislators, the rule change has not been approved. As a result of the resistance to its implementation, a decision on this rule change has been postponed pending review by a legislative research office. No doubt the issue of this proposed change in venue rules will come up again.
Contact Sacchetta & Baldino Today!
If you or someone you care about has been injured as a result of negligence on the part of a medical health professional, you should call the offices of Sacchetta & Baldino right away. We specialize in personal injury claims and would like to put our decades of experience to work for you so that you receive the compensation you deserve under the law. Whether it is negotiating with the insurance company or presenting your case in court before a jury of your peers, we will fight aggressively for your rights. Contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys about your medical malpractice case.