Stop Venue Shopping

Pennsylvania law generally requires personal injury claims to be filed against individuals in a county in which (1) the defendant may be served, (2) the cause of action arose, or (3) the transaction or occurrence out of which the cause of action arose took place. These “venue” rules give plaintiffs various choices of different possible venues, and plaintiffs are generally free to ‘shop’ among those forums and choose the one they prefer.

Studies have indicated that plaintiffs’ attorneys often file suit in Philadelphia because they believe Philadelphia will offer them an advantage in litigation, and because Pennsylvania’s broad venue rules allow a larger-than-usual number of plaintiffs to sue in the Commonwealth’s courts. This practice is commonly called “forum shopping.”

Venue reform for all personal injury cases in Pennsylvania would bring about greater uniformity in the law and prevent lawyers from suing in courts that give jackpot awards but have little or no connection to the cause of action.

Similar reforms have already been enacted for medical malpractice cases. In 2002, nearly half of all medical malpractice claims filed in Pennsylvania landed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiffs’ lawyers chose Philadelphia, according to some observers, in part because of pre-reform data indicating that plaintiffs were more than twice as likely to win jury trials there than the national average, and over half of these Philadelphia medical malpractice awards were for $1 million or more. However, when Pennsylvania enacted a special venue rule directing medical malpractice claimants to file such claims “only in a county in which the cause of action arose,” medical malpractice claims filed in Philadelphia fell from 1365 to 577, a decline of 58%.

Enacting the same venue rule for all personal injury cases would stop plaintiffs from shopping for a more favorable venue to increase their shot at jackpot awards.  This reform would establish that liability claims may only be brought in the county where all or a predominant part of the cause of action arose. This change brought needed relief to health care when it was enacted. It is time to provide the same protection to our job creators.