PCCJR Update — February 18, 2020

Supreme Court’s Decision Striking Down Statute of Repose Will Stand

We sure would have liked a second bite at this apple. Instead, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court gave trial lawyers an early Valentine’s Day gift on January 31 when it denied our requested re-argument in Yanakos v. UPMC. The high court refused to hear re-arguments on its earlier ruling which found the statute of repose in medical liability actions “unconstitutional.” The court also denied a request by PCCJR and other business, health care, and legislative organizations to file amicus briefs in the case.

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice David Wecht reviewed the history and outcome of the case stating, “…the appeal took on a life of its own. Or, more properly, this Court breathed a new life into it. What began as a dispute about whether the legislature’s exemption of foreign-object cases was arbitrary and unconstitutional was suddenly afforded a judicial resurrection as an appeal about “whether the seven-year statute of repose is substantially related to controlling the cost of medical malpractice premium rates”—something that the Yanakoses had never argued and the lower courts had never considered.” 

PCCJR agrees! This outcome allows to stand a worrisome new standard of judicial review that usurps legislative policy-making authority. The result creates more questions than answers – answers we would have liked to speak to in the course of re-argument.

Read more in the Pennsylvania RecordPennsylvania’s Supreme Court loses no sleep after bending the law to help personal injury lawyers

We couldn’t help but appreciate Justice Wecht’s perspective that “this is not an ordinary request for reargument. All too often, a losing litigant will file an application for reargument that simply restates the points that this Court already considered and rejected when it rendered its decision. This is not one of those applications.”

Instead, he went on to say, the filings before us illustrate that the decision in Yanakos was not just incorrect, but was confused as well. Confused about the law. Confused about procedure. Confused about insurance. Confused about the question presented. The petitioners— joined by the American Medical Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Majority Caucuses of the House and Senate, and a great many others—have asked this Court to remedy that confusion.”

Reargument is a fail-safe. It gives an appellate court the opportunity to admit that it made a mistake. This Court should have taken advantage of that opportunity today. I respectfully dissent.

Here’s another good article on this latest ruling:  Pa. Supreme Court to let controversial decision stand in medical malpractice lawsuit

Nonetheless, the majority decision keeps in place a troubling Supreme Court fall ruling, by a 4-3 decision, which eliminated the seven year statute of repose in medical liability cases. You can read a good summary of the case, involving a liver donor and transplant patient, here.

In the original ruling, Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy wrote themajority opinion and was joined by Justices Debra Todd, Kevin Dougherty and mostly by Christine Donohue. Justice Donohue authored an opinion concurring in the majority’s decision but dissenting in the level of judicial scrutiny applied.

Justice David Wecht wrote a dissent that was joined by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Max Baer.

In that dissent, Justice Wecht wrote: “Both the lead Opinion and the Concurring and Dissenting Opinion flout the General Assembly’s policymaking authority by constitutionalizing and imposing a standard that neither the text nor the history of our Constitution supports. Because existing jurisprudence supplies a different standard, and because it is not this Court’s role to upend duly enacted legislation simply because we might sometimes deem it imperfect or unwise, I must respectfully dissent.”

The dissent also pointed out that because the statute is intended to have the underlying objective of reducing the cost of malpractice insurance, it could withstand the legal argument of immediate scrutiny. According to Justice Wecht, the legislation meets this standard because the cost of insurance coverage is related to the insurer’s costs, and because those costs decrease when fewer aged claims are filed.

In the News….

A year of study and Senate still unsure about changing rules for medical-malpractice lawsuits| The Pennsylvania Record


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