Malpractice Claim Venue Rule Change
Bottom Line: On August 25, the State Supreme Court rescinded a 20 year old rule that mandates medical malpractice liability lawsuits must be filed in the county where the action occurred. This rule change returns PA to the malpractice environment that created a crisis in the early 2000s by allowing trial lawyers to pick and choose the court jurisdictions for filing a malpractice claim, maximizing the chances of jury verdicts and expanded monetary awards.
PA-ACP Statement on the PA Supreme Court action: “PA-ACP has opposed changing this rule since it’s proposal in late 2019, testifying to the General Assembly, testifying and providing information to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, urging actuarial studies and supporting legislation to give the legislature control over venue rules. We will continue to advocate on behalf of our members to get this rule reinstated as quickly as possible through all avenues and any available means, including legislation and constitutional amendments if necessary.”
“The health care crisis in the state caused the executive, legislative and judicial branches to all work together to stop venue shopping in medical liability cases. When the rule was implemented, it did –- and has continued to help, as the number of medical liability cases filed in Philadelphia plummeted and medical liability premiums stabilized. The Court’s action threatens to reverse that stability.”
“The Court’s action threatens the safety and health of millions of Pennsylvanians, and benefits one class – trial lawyers.” PA-ACP urges the General Assembly to take action to check the Court’s unilateral action and assert its authority to set venue policy – whether through HB 2660, or some other action.
Even with stabilization, Pennsylvania had the second highest medical malpractice payouts in the nation. And by rescinding the venue rule, the Supreme Court is now letting trial lawyers steer cases to high verdict courts, even though an actuarial study commissioned by Senate Judiciary Chair Lisa Baker, found a rule reversal would lead to a substantial increase in premiums. “Access to affordable, quality health care – at all levels from primary care to specialty and surgical care – is critical, and should not be threatened by giving trial lawyers a way to take an action in Blair County to a jury in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.”
Brief Summary: The Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the PA Supreme Court published in 12/2018 a proposed Rule change that would again allow plaintiffs' attorneys to choose the court jurisdiction in which to file a malpractice claim. PA ACP is at the top of a coalition of more than 30 organizations strongly advocating against this Rule change.
A similar situation in the early 2000s caused numerous quality physicians to leave PA and practice in neighboring and other states. In 2002, nearly half of all medical malpractice claims filed in Pennsylvania landed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiffs’ lawyers chose Philadelphia, according to some observers, in part because of pre-reform data indicating that plaintiffs were more than twice as likely to win jury trials there than the national average, and over half of these Philadelphia medical malpractice awards were for $1 million or more. Trainees fled PA immediately after completing their training. Patients were left with often unsafe care scenarios. Many communities had no reasonable access to, for example, primary care clinicians, obstetricians, orthopedic surgeons, etc. Others had too few physicians to safely care for those who needed them.
In 2002, a change was passed to alleviate this crisis. As reported by multiple media outlets (e.g. Brelje, Reading Eagle, 2/14/2019), when Pennsylvania enacted a special venue rule directing medical malpractice claimants to file such claims “only in a county in which the cause of action arose,” the number of medical malpractice cases statewide filed yearly fell 47%. And medical malpractice claims filed in Philadelphia fell from 1365 to 577, a decline of 58%.
The Rule change's potential impact on patient care was investigated by the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee in 2019-2020, and an actuarial report ordered by the State Senate Judiciary Committee in 2022 clearly showed such a change would hike malpractice premiums, in some counties more than 75%, reigniting the crisis faced in the early 2000’s.
What is PA-ACP Doing: PA-ACP immediately got engaged on this issue on behalf of its members, and wrote a letter to the PA Supreme Court’s Civil Procedural Rules Committee in opposition to this change to state law. PA-ACP worked with House and Senate leadership, to seek further support – which resulted in letter to the Supreme Court asking for a delay in consideration of this change, and passage of SR 20, requiring the state’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to conduct a study of the issue and report back by the end of the year. PA-ACP continued to work with the LBFC, providing additional information, and participated in public hearings on the issue.
We met with members of the House and Senate to enlist their support for maintaining the current law and rules, and to seek legislative solutions. Among those actions was endorsement of HB 2660, introduced by Rep. Rob Kauffman, the House Judiciary Committee Chair, which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to give the General Assembly authority over these rules.
As a result of these efforts, the House Republican Policy Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the issue for 11 a.m. on September 12.
We are currently exploring other alternatives, and will keep members informed as those opportunities are identified.
For more information or ways you can help, please contact Amy Davis (AmyDavisDO@aol.com), PA ACP Health & Public Policy Committee Chair, or Mr. John Nikoloff PA ACP Government Relations Coordinator (John@pa-erg.com).
Want to learn more? Check out more in-depth topic reviews:
PA ACP’s letter to Civil Procedural Rules Committee, PA Supreme Court:
PCCJR Statement on Rule Rescission