PCCJR Venue Opinion Piece Published in Scranton Times-Tribune

The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) continues to warn Pennsylvanians of the impact on health care should our Supreme Court allow venue shopping to return to medical liability cases. The following opinion piece ran in the Scranton Times-Tribune on July 28. It was written in response to an editorial filled with inaccuracies and misunderstandings of why medical liability cases must continue to be brought only in counties where the alleged injury occurs.  The best chance to prevent the harm that will be caused if medical liability cases are once again filed in far flung locales across the state is to allow the General Assembly to establish venue policy.

To see a brief primer on venue, what it is and its impact, take a look at PCCJR’s short video clip here.

Deny Court Venue Power

By Curt Schroder

Guest Columnist              

A recent editorial (“Leave Venue Decisions to Judiciary,” June 20) takes issue with legislation to allow the General Assembly to determine venue in civil cases. For the sake of maintaining health care services across Pennsylvania, the Times-Tribune should rethink its position.

Venue determines where in Pennsylvania a civil case can be filed. Venue shopping is when plaintiffs’ attorneys file civil lawsuits in Philadelphia and other high verdict jurisdictions in search of large jackpot verdicts, even though the location of the court has no connection to the case.

Because of rampant venue shopping in medical liability cases in the early 2000s, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Governor, and General Assembly worked together to stop venue shopping. In 2003, the Supreme Court adopted a rule requiring all medical liability case to be filed 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. As a result, liability premiums for health care professionals skyrocketed, causing hospitals and medical professionals to curtail services.

The venue rule helped to right-size Pennsylvania’s medical liability climate, bringing greater fairness and balance to the civil justice system.

Since the rule was adopted nearly 20 years ago, the number of medical liability cases filed in Philadelphia and other high verdict court systems has plummeted.

There is an ongoing push by plaintiffs’ attorneys to return to the pre-2003 venue rules. The Supreme Court unilaterally could act at any time to rescind the venue rule.

A recent report commissioned by Republican state Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County highlights the negative impact this proposed rule change would have on health care. According to the report, medical liability premiums would increase across the state, costs for patients would increase, services to patients would be curtailed, and health care professionals would sit at trials in faraway counties.

Northeast Pennsylvania would not escape the negative impact. The report found that liability premiums would increase for hospitals and doctors in Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill, and Lehigh counties. Hospitals in Susquehanna County would see a 37.4% percent increase in premiums, while doctors in Susquehanna County would be nailed with a 78% premium increase.

Such increases would be a shock to the health care system and could very well set in motion another medical liability crisis.

That is why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should not have exclusive authority to establish venue policy. The Pennsylvania Constitution already allows the General Assembly to establish jurisdiction in civil cases. Granting the General Assembly the authority to set venue policy — as outlined in H.B. 2660, introduced by Rep. Rob Kauffman — is a logical next step. This legislation gives Pennsylvania residents a voice on the issue, through their elected representatives, and provides a much-needed check to the judicial branch.

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