Venue Returned to County Where Failure to Communicate Medical Test Results Occurred

Posted in Medical Malpractice

In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred.

The Superior Court in Pennsylvania recently reversed a trial court decision in a medical malpractice case that transferred venue from Philadelphia County to Berks County, sending the case back to Philadelphia County.

The case involved a premature infant who was being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit in a Berks County hospital. The infant underwent a transthoracic echocardiogram in Berks County, which was interpreted by a pediatric cardiologist working in a hospital in Philadelphia County. The Philadelphia cardiologist wrote a report of her findings, including her diagnosis and treatment plan. The diagnosis of the Philadelphia doctor was pulmonary hypertension requiring immediate treatment or intervention, which was to be forwarded to plaintiff’s treating providers in Berks County.

The complaint alleged that the Philadelphia County doctor and hospital staff failed to timely transmit the report to the Berks County providers. Thus, the infant plaintiff’s treatment was delayed, causing him harm.

The complaint did not dispute that the Philadelphia doctor made a proper diagnosis and devised a suitable treatment plan calling for the immediate transfer of the infant plaintiff to her care. Instead, it alleged that the Philadelphia doctor failed to furnish these services to the infant as quickly as was indicated because of the negligent failure of her and her staff to timely put the plan into effect. Plaintiffs asserted that the alleged failure of the Philadelphia doctor and the staff of the Philadelphia hospital to timely implement the treatment plan for the infant plaintiff in Philadelphia County constituted medical malpractice in Philadelphia. Plaintiffs sought venue in Philadelphia County.

The defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to raise any allegations of professional negligence stemming from medical care provided to the child in Philadelphia County.

The trial court agreed, and transferred the case from Philadelphia County to Berks County. The trial judge found that the transmission of the doctor’s impressions, diagnoses, and treatment plan did not constitute “health care services” under the MCARE Act. Thus, the trial court found that the failure to timely transmit the results was purely ministerial and did not constitute medical malpractice.

The Superior Court reversed and sent the case back to Philadelphia County, concluding that the delay in putting the Philadelphia doctor’s treatment plan into effect amounted to negligent provision of health care services that caused harm to the infant. This negligence was not ministerial or clerical. The alleged errors of the Philadelphia doctor and staff caused delay in care to the infant plaintiff and constituted medical malpractice in Philadelphia.

In a medical malpractice claim, the cause of action arises where the alleged negligent acts occurred, not where the injury occurred. In this matter, the Superior Court found that Philadelphia County was where the health care services were provided and thus where the alleged malpractice occurred. As explained in the concurring opinion, the review and interpretation of the Berks County echocardiogram took place in Philadelphia County, the diagnosis and recommended course of action was rendered by a doctor in Philadelphia County, and the doctor in Philadelphia failed to transmit the results in a timely fashion. Thus, venue is proper in Philadelphia.

The Superior Court vacated the order transferring venue to Berks County and reinstated venue in Philadelphia County.

This is an important decision in an age where medical decisions are frequently being made virtually. It is not at all uncommon to have a study or test done at one facility, reviewed and interpreted by a doctor located somewhere else.