Earlier this week, a House Republican Policy Committee hearing delved into the negative impacts that could result from the Supreme Court’s recent decision to again allow forum shopping in medical liability cases in the Commonwealth. Testimony was provided by Dr. Michael R. Ripchinski, Chief Physician Executive, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, Zachary Shamberg, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Healthcare Association, Dr. Wilson Jackson III, Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology, for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and Jonathan Greer, president, Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. The broad range of testifiers warned that the rule change could lead to Pennsylvania repeating history with another medical liability crisis.
The medical liability venue rule – which required medical malpractice cases to be tried in the county in which the alleged incident occurred – was implemented in 2003 as the state faced a growing health care crisis. Prior to this rule, plaintiffs’ attorneys regularly funneled medical liability lawsuits to high verdict jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, in search of large payouts. This led to skyrocketing liability premiums for healthcare professionals causing physicians to drop high risk but necessary procedures, maternity wards to close, and limiting patient access to health care. Unfortunately, the rule’s success in right-sizing the state’s medical liability environment made it a target for plaintiffs’ attorneys who took home fewer big contingency fees. Over the past several years, plaintiffs’ attorneys have launched a full-scale campaign to have the rule reversed in order to go back to the days of venue shopping in search of larger jackpot verdicts and personal paydays. The Supreme Court announced in late August that it was doing away with the medical liability venue rule.
The testimony at the hearing echoed a recent independent study that found a rule reversal would lead to a substantial increase in premiums throughout the Commonwealth – raising health care costs and threatening access to crucial services as a result.
Following the hearing, PCCJR Executive Director Curt Schroder issued a press release thanking Committee Chairman Martin Causer and the Committee for shining a light on the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s rule reversal and encouraged the General Assembly to take action to stop venue shopping in the Commonwealth.