Pa. Supreme Court to reevaluate ‘venue-shopping’ rule change after year-long study

Following a year-long study on the impact of location on medical malpractice court cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be revisiting a rule change proposal that sparked controversy last year in the medical community.

The rule change, suggested by the state Supreme Court’s civil procedural rules committee in Dec. 2018, would allow victims of medical malpractice to have their cases heard in any county where a defendant conducts business.

Pennsylvania’s highest court ruled early in 2019 to delay any changes to the current rule until the state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee filed a report detailing how such a change would impact medical professional liability actions.

If passed by the state Supreme Court, the ruling would amend the 2003 rule that advocates say brought the state out of a medical liability crisis.  Prior to 2003, plaintiffs were able to choose the county that would hear their case. Attorneys were known to choose counties seen as plaintiff-friendly in a process referred to as venue shopping.

Venue shopping was blamed for a high prevalence of medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania Counties like Philadelphia and Allegheny, which in turn drove up the cost of medical malpractice insurance.

“A return to old rules would have profound, real-world consequences on the delivery of health care in Pennsylvania, including increased liability premiums for doctors and hospitals, which in return will impact the availability of health care services for people who need them,” wrote a coalition of health care organizations including the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, The Pennsylvania Medical Society, The Hospital and Healthsystems Association of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

Proponents of the change argue that going to another can result in fairer awards to plaintiffs in regions where the hospital system affiliated with the case is the largest employer.

During the year-long study, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee came to a number of conclusions that it outlined in its report:

  • There was a 45% decrease in medical malpractice filings, and a prominent shift in claims away from Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties, between the three-year time periods 2000-2002 and 2015 to 2017.
  • There were no statewide trends between medical malpractice insurance rates and the number of clinical medical staff, but insurance rates may have an effect on where a physician decides to practice.
  • The effect of the rule change on the number of malpractice filings or the value of malpractice payments could not be determined.
  • The cost of medical professional liability insurance continued to rise until 2007, before rates began to decrease.

The report did not give any recommendations for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding how it should move forward with the rule change.