Pennsylvania Residents Will Pay the Price of State Supreme Court’s Venue Rule Change
Independent report found rule reversal would lead to increased health care costs, threaten patient access to services
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform Executive Director Curt Schroder issued the following statement regarding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to rescind the state’s medical malpractice venue rule. The rule was implemented in 2003 as skyrocketing medical liability premiums forced maternity wards to close, high-risk specialties to curtail services and made access to health care scarce. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2003 recognized that venue shopping was rampant and causing great damage to health care. They enacted a rule requiring cases to be filed in the county in which the alleged incident occurred
“Nearly 20 years ago, a health care crisis in the Commonwealth led the executive, legislative and judicial branches to work together to stop venue shopping in medical liability cases – which was leading to skyrocketing liability premiums and threatening patient access to health care services. In the years since the rule was implemented, the rule has done exactly what it was designed to do. The Commonwealth’s medical liability environment was right sized as the number of medical liability cases filed in Philadelphia plummeted and medical liability premiums stabilized. Unfortunately, the success of the rule ultimately led to its demise – and now the Commonwealth risks history repeating itself.
Pennsylvanians will pay the ultimate price for this gift to plaintiffs’ attorneys. The state already suffers from the second highest medical malpractice payouts in the nation. Now that the Supreme Court has paved the way for plaintiffs’ attorneys to steer cases to high verdict courts, that number is expected to go up. And that won’t be the only negative impact. A recently released independent actuarial report commissioned by Senate Judiciary Chair Lisa Baker, found a rule reversal would lead to a substantial increase in premiums. Lancaster County, for example, could expect upwards of a 73 percent premium increase for hospitals and an 82 percent liability premium increase for physicians. Other counties mentioned in the report that would see substantial premium increases included Bedford, Chester, Clinton, Lycoming, Montgomery, Potter, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Venango.
“Plaintiffs’ lawyers would have you believe the only place they can obtain justice is in Philadelphia and other locales known for jackpot verdicts. That is an insult to caring, conscientious jurors across the state who devote great time and consideration to civil cases. What the plaintiffs’ bar does not admit is that sometimes a defense verdict is justice. Sometimes a reasonable payout or settlement, as opposed to a nuclear verdict, is justice, Schroder said.
If plaintiffs’ attorneys are truly concerned about recovering for their injured clients, they could ensure the plaintiff takes home more by reducing the percentage of their contingency fee. That would provide a substantial boost in the portion of the recovery benefiting the plaintiff. The fact that they refuse to reduce contingency fees exposes the lie in their argument that they “care.” The trial bar’s true interest is in lining their own pockets, according to Schroder.
Maintaining access to affordable, quality health care is too important to risk by allowing venue shopping to again run rampant. We urge the General Assembly to move forward with a constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly the authority to set venue policy – such as created in H.B. 2660 sponsored by Rep. Rob Kauffman. Absent a constitutional amendment, the Supreme Court will continue to determine the venue issue itself without any check on its powers by the General Assembly. Pennsylvanians deserve better.
The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform is a 501(c )(6), not-for-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization comprised of a diverse group of organizations and individuals committed to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by raising awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal reform. Additional information is available at http://www.paforciviljusticereform.org, https://www.facebook.com/paciviljustice/ or https://twitter.com/paciviljustice.