Pennsylvania’s highest court lastThursday reversed its own two-decade-old rule that required medical malpractice cases to be filed in the county where the alleged harm occurred, a win for civil plaintiffs and the lawyers who represent them but a potentially costly change for health care providers.
The decision by the state Supreme Court is likely to mean the number of such lawsuits will increase in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where jurors are considered to be more sympathetic to patients and more likely to produce larger verdicts.
The justices sided with a recommendation from their own Civil Procedural Rules Committee. In a report issued by the committee, its majority argued that medical malpractice cases should be subject to the same rules as other types of civil litigation.
“There appears to be a misconception that patients harmed by the negligent actions of healthcare providers somehow enjoy a windfall verdict in more populous counties,” the committee majority wrote in its report. “Many of these patients have endured substantial injuries seriously lessening their quality of life in perpetuity, requiring permanent medical care and assistance in activities of daily living.”
A 2020 report by the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee said the cost of medical professional liability insurance had fallen in the state since 2007, following a national trend.
“The available data does not support a conclusion that changes in the availability, cost, and affordability of medical professional liability insurance are the result of changes in Pennsylvania law,” the report concluded.
Zachary Shamberg, head of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, called the change “a dramatic step backwards” for long-term care providers in the state.
“This could ultimately disrupt the sustainability of our industry as we know it,” Shamberg said.