A New Concern about Medical Malpractice Venue Shopping in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Civil Procedural Rules Committee (the “Committee”), comprised of fifteen attorneys, proposed a new procedural Rule change that some physicians’ organizations, including the Pennsylvania Medical Society, believe will increase medical liability premiums and limit patient access to care. The proposed Rule change, found here, rescinds limits on the choice of venue in medical professional liability actions. While the current Rules limit the venue of such actions to the county in which the alleged malpractice occurred, the Committee believes that such “special treatment of a particular class of defendants . . . no longer appears warranted.”

The so-called special treatment arose in response to skyrocketing malpractice liability policy premiums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The ever-growing premiums made it increasingly difficult for then-current practitioners to continue to practice in Pennsylvania and rendered the Commonwealth an unattractive place to practice for new physicians. Beginning in 2002, Pennsylvania’s venue Rules limited medical malpractice plaintiffs to bringing their claims in the county in which the alleged malpractice occurred. Statistics compiled over the last fifteen or so years, found here, show that medical malpractice claims are down and thus claim payments are down. The result has been a stabilization of medical malpractice coverage premiums.

Given this stabilization, the Committee seeks to “restore fairness” to the PA Rules addressing venue and remove the limitations on medical malpractice plaintiffs. The concern, however, is that the stabilization over the last fifteen years is precisely the result of the venue limitation and removing that limitation will return Pennsylvania’s physicians to the bad old days. Under the proposed Rule change, medical malpractice plaintiffs will again have the option to “forum shop” for a more plaintiff-friendly county. This, critics say, will increase payouts to plaintiffs, which will increase malpractice coverage premiums. In turn, the costs of practicing medicine in Pennsylvania will rise. Ultimately, goes the argument, patients will lose access to care.

The proposed Rule change is open for public comment until February 22, 2019. The PA Medical Society has created a page to facilitate public comments here.

Vasilios (“Bill”) J. Kalogredis, Esquire is Chairman of Lamb McErlane’s Health Law Department. Bill has been practicing health law for over 40 years, representing exclusively physicians, dentists, group practices, other health care professionals and health care-related entities.

Andrew Stein, Esquire is an associate at Lamb McErlane PC.  He concentrates his practice at the intersection of health law and business law. He represents individuals and businesses with a primary focus on licensed medical and dental professionals, medical and dental practices, and other health care entities.