Currently in Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit may only be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. This more restrictive than the venue rule for other types of civil cases, which provides more flexibility and gives plaintiffs more control over where their lawsuit is filed.
The current rule, which is exclusive to medical malpractice cases, was enacted more than 15 years ago in response to a concern that medical malpractice lawsuits were being disproportionately filed in counties where juries were likely to render higher verdicts based on historical statistics. The rule was part of several changes that were enacted in Pennsylvania in an effort to combat a perceived “medical malpractice crisis” – the idea that health care costs were rising, and doctors were fleeing the state as a result of high insurance premiums, due to too many malpractice lawsuits. Data compiled since that time appears to have more or less debunked the idea of a medical malpractice crisis. Moreover, a study conducted by John Hopkins University School of Medicine established that medical malpractice payouts were not the primary cause of rising health care costs.
Now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Committee has proposed rule changes that would allow plaintiffs to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in any county where the health care provider defendant regularly does business. The rule change would not permit plaintiffs to file anywhere, but it would loosen the current filing restriction and would put the medical malpractice venue rule more in line with the venue rule that applies to all other personal injury cases. Many people have long been unhappy that there are two rules – one for medical malpractice cases, and one for all personal injury other cases.
The Supreme Court Rules Committee is made up of lawyers who represents plaintiffs, and lawyers who represent defendants, as well as judges. There appears to be significant support for the rule change, however some insurance companies and the lawyers who represent them appear to be opposed. There is no doubt that medical malpractice filings have dropped substantially since this and other rule changes went into effect in 2002.
Right now, the proposed rule change is in the comment period, which ends February 22nd. After that deadline, the rule can be submitted to the Supreme Court for approval.
Stark & Stark’s Medical Malpractice Department represents individuals and families in medical malpractice cases throughout Pennsylvania.