By JIM REED
Ziff Law Managing Partner
Senate Republicans in Pennsylvania have delivered at least a temporary setback to Northern Tier residents seeking better access to justice in medical malpractice cases in PA courts.
GOP leaders in Harrisburg were successful recently in their fight to delay the implementation of a proposed State Supreme Court rule change that would’ve lifted restrictions on where medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed in the state.
Under the current state law, lawyers must file personal injury and medical malpractice cases in the county where the alleged incidents occurred.
On Dec. 22, 2018, the Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Supreme Court proposed repealing the venue rule. But following the adoption of a Senate resolution that requested more time to study the impact of the proposed change, the Supreme Court took the step last month of saying it would not take any action on the proposed rule change until it could read a report on the proposed rule change being prepared by the Senate’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.
The GOP-controlled Senate sides with doctors, healthcare providers, insurance companies, and their lobbyists, who warn that the change would drive up healthcare and insurance costs and hurt the state healthcare system. They claim that massive malpractice suits will drive doctors out of the state.
But the facts suggest the opposite– that in fact there is no medical malpractice crisis in PA. Since 2002, medical malpractice lawsuits and verdicts in PA have dropped and state insurance records show that private medical malpractice insurance companies are taking in more money in malpractice premiums than they are paying out in claims.
Those in favor of the rule change contend that it is often difficult for a medical malpractice victim to get a fair trial in a county where the defendant hospital, medical group or doctor is a major employer. I think this is a very legitimate concern particularly in the more rural counties in the Northern Tier (Bradford, Tioga, etc) where the large medical groups are among the biggest employers in the county.
I believe that permitting injured persons to pursue their claim in a county where the defendant doesn’t have a major influence over the jury pool is a good idea and accordingly I hope this proposed rule change is ultimately implemented.
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