According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), the number of medical malpractice cases filed in Pennsylvania declined last year to the lowest it has been since statewide tracking began in 2000.
The AOPC data shows that there were 1,463 new cases filed in Pennsylvania’s civil courts in 2014 — the fewest ever recorded and a 46.5 percent decline from the number posted in the “base years” of 2000-2002. In Philadelphia, the state’s judicial district with the largest number of cases, the decline has been 68.3 percent during the same time period.
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania ‘s press release said that the base years are the period just prior to two significant rules changes made by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that required:
- Attorneys obtain from a medical professional a “certificate of merit” that establishes that the medical procedures in a case fall outside acceptable standards.
- Medical malpractice actions to be brought only in the county where the cause of action took place — a move aimed at eliminating so-called “venue shopping.”
Physicians often ask us, “What has the Pennsylvania Medical Society [PAMED] done to address this problem in the past and what are you doing now to achieve meaningful tort reform in Pennsylvania?”
While there is certainly more to be done to enact meaningful tort reform in Pennsylvania, PAMED has achieved many important remedies addressing major physician concerns, including:
- Apology — Physician apologies and other benevolent gestures (except admissions of fault or negligence) to a patient after a poor outcome are inadmissible to prove liability in a medical liability action.
- Expert witness qualifications —Establishes expert witness qualifications, including active practice or teaching and either same or similar specialty or board certification in same or similar specialty when defendant physician is board certified.
- Venue — Medical liability actions may be filed only in the county where the cause of action arose, or if multiple defendants, only in a county where action against one of the individual defendants could be brought.
- Joint and several liability — Modifies joint and several liability rule so that defendants less than 60 percent liable will only be responsible for their proportionate share of award.
- Certificate of merit — Requires attorneys who file a professional liability action to file a certificate of merit stating that he/she has in hand a supporting report from a qualified expert within 60 days of filing claim.
- Punitive damages — Punitive damages are allowed only if a health care provider engaged in willful or wanton conduct or in reckless disregard to rights of others, and are capped at 200 percent of compensatory damages except in case of intentional misconduct.
- Affidavit of non-involvement — Defendants can obtain quick dismissal by filing an affidavit stating that they were not involved with the plaintiff’s care, or obligated to provide care, individually or through agents and employees.
- Collateral source rule — Limits double recoveries for past “losses” covered by collateral sources such as private health and disability insurance.
- Periodic payment — Mandates periodic payment of future medical damages with automatic cut-off at death.
- Reduction to present worth — Mandates reduction to present worth of future work loss damages.
- Statute of repose — Seven-year absolute time limit on filing of claims except in the case of an injured minor or foreign object left in the body. Preserves the existing two-year absolute limit on filing of wrongful death or survival claims except in case of fraud or wrongful concealment of cause of death.
- Remittitur — Requires the court to consider the adverse impact of a verdict on availability or access to health care in the community when ruling on a motion to reduce verdict.
PAMED is both your voice and your advocate for pro-physician medical liability reform in Pennsylvania and has a robust tort reform agenda. We are aggressively seeking reforms to:
- Strengthen the Certificate of Merit Supreme Court rule
- Tighten the expert witness requirement under Act 13
- Require a finding of gross negligence to award non-economic damages
- Require clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence to find liability in emergency care
- Obtain limits on plaintiffs’ attorney fees
- Immunity for volunteers providing care in approved clinics