All it took was a one page order to rip the medical liability venue rule right out of the procedural rule book! Nearly twenty years of successfully preventing venue shopping has been assigned to the dust bin of history.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it was rescinding the state’s medical liability venue rule. Pennsylvania will once again see the rampant venue shopping that was a major factor in the medical liability crisis of the early 2000s.
The order was “per curiam” meaning it was issued by the entire court. The order did note Justice Brobson’s dissent to the portion of the order that strikes down any statute in conflict with the new venue rule enacted by the court. The new rule takes effect January 1, 2023. The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR)has long advocated against a change to the rule, citing independent studies that a return to venue shopping will lead to higher health care costs across the Commonwealth.
Because of rampant venue shopping in medical liability cases in the early 2000s, the state Supreme Court, Governor and General Assembly worked together to put an end to it. In 2003, the Supreme Court adopted a rule requiring all medical liability cases be filed in the county where the alleged cause of action, or injury, occurs. Prior to the rule, attorneys funneled as many cases as possible through Philadelphia’s notoriously high-verdict court system in search of a large payday. As a result, liability premiums for healthcare professionals skyrocketed – causing hospitals and medical professionals to curtail services and close maternity wards.
In the years since the rule was implemented, it did 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.
Over the past several years, plaintiffs’ attorneys launched a full-scale campaign to have it reversed in order to go back to the days of venue shopping which put more money in their packets from large contingency fees. This will have dire impacts for residents throughout the state.
The Commonwealth already suffers from the second highest medical malpractice payouts in the nation and is in the midst of a clinician shortage. Now that the Supreme Court has paved the way for plaintiffs’ attorneys to steer cases to high verdict courts without any real connection to the case itself, the situation will only worsen. A recent 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.
For years, plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued that they can only obtain “justice” for their clients in Philadelphia and other locales known for jackpot verdicts. They fail to mention, however, that the larger the verdict, the greater their personal payday. If plaintiffs’ attorneys are truly concerned about recovering more 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. Yet, they have continually refused to reduce contingency fees. The trial bar’s true interest is in lining their own pockets!
Maintaining access to affordable, quality health care is too important to risk by allowing venue shopping to again run rampant. PCCJR did not fight this rule change for over three years just to waive the white flag and accept defeat. We are already working on proposals that address venue to be taken up by the legislature when it returns for the fall session.