Supreme Court Justices Comment on Med Mal Venue Rule Change

House Appropriations budget hearings are normally staid affairs featuring mind numbing inquiries on programs supported by legislative appropriations, the crunching of budget figures, and the justification for requested increases or cuts to a department. It is unglamorous and tedious, but a necessary prerequisite to passage of the Commonwealth’s annual spending plan. For the first sixty minutes of the Judiciary’s budget hearing featuring Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd and Justice Kevin Brobson, that was the case.

That changed when Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams) went off script. Rep. Ecker brought up the court’s decision to rescind the medical liability venue rule and reminded the justices of the resulting increase in case filings in the city of nuclear verdicts, Philadelphia.

Rep. Ecker asked the justices why they “fixed” something that was not broken and was serving the purpose for which it was enacted.  The justices launched into a defense of the venue rule rescission as justified for the following reasons:

  • the rule change merely returned medical liability venue to the same rule as all other civil cases.
  • there is no longer a hard liability insurance market, so it was time to eliminate the rule as it was only intended to be “temporary.”

The certificate of merit requirement was also discussed and it was suggested that it had the largest effect of reducing the number of medical liability cases of all the rules enacted by the court during the early 2000s.

These exchanges can be viewed at beginning at the 60 minute 41 second mark.

Rep. Ecker’s line of questioning ended when he was admonished by Committee Chair Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) for going too far afield from the budget proposal before the committee.

Editor’s Note: It is the position of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) that the medical liability venue rule was intended to be permanent. Changes in health care delivery systems, including the consolidation of health care in the early 2000s, had resulted in unintended applications of the broad venue rule. Those concerns from the early 2000s are even more valid today as health care consolidation has accelerated over the past twenty years.

A review of the legislative record and the report of the Interbranch Commission on Venue make no mention of the med mal venue rule being temporary. Former Justice William Lamb, who served on the Supreme Court and was appointed by then Chief Justice Ralph Cappy to lead the court’s medical liability committee to monitor the effectiveness of the rule, stated in an email to PCCJR that “The Rule was NEVER intended to be temporary.” Justice Lamb went on to state that the Court found the rule was working and serving its intended purpose of preventing venue shopping.

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