Last Updated: Feb 7, 2019
In response to the possibility that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court could loosen the rules governing venue in medical liability actions, the State Senate approved Senate Resolution (SR) 20, which calls for a measured approach to any future changes.
The resolution, sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker and approved by the Senate on Feb. 5, 2019, recognizes the medical liability crisis that gripped Pennsylvania physicians and hospitals in the early 2000s.
Passage of the resolution, applauded by physicians, hospitals and others who frequently find themselves in the grips of aggressive personal injury lawyers, paints a vivid picture of Pennsylvania’s medical liability climate before the Supreme Court put the brakes on venue shopping in 2002. Prior to that time, liability cases, unfairly sucked into “plaintiff friendly” jurisdictions like Philadelphia, brought the Commonwealth’s medical community to its knees as high-risk specialists curtailed complex surgeries, OB/GYN’s stopped delivering babies and the ability to recruit physicians to practice in the Commonwealth all but dried up. Access to critical patient care suffered while personal injury lawyers unfairly pocketed millions in contingent fees.
The passage of SR 20 sends a strong message to the Supreme Court that changing venue rules in medical liability cases should be carefully studied before unilaterally winding the clock back to those dark days of medical practice. The resolution directs a bi-partisan legislative research committee to conduct a comprehensive study of the impact such a reversal would have on the availability of medical care across the Commonwealth.
The resolution goes on to dictate that the study includes an assessment of the effects of the 2003 venue changes on such areas as the availability, cost and affordability of medical liability insurance. The study is also to determine whether sufferers of medical negligence have been appropriately compensated in the years since the court restricted venue shopping.
SR 20 is a well-reasoned approach, given the potentially devastating ramifications, to the question of whether a stable and predictable medical liability climate should be disrupted. Given Pennsylvania’s nine medical schools and countless physician training programs, there is no plausible reason the health and welfare of the Commonwealth’s citizens should ever again suffer from a lack a quality medical care.
While the message of SR 20 is clear, it is important to keep in mind that the resolution does not require the Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Pa. Supreme Court to delay its vote on proposed venue rule changes. Ultimately that decision rests with the Court.
PAMED and a coalition of 40 organizations – including the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform as well as numerous Pa.-based specialty and county medical societies – are working together to oppose the venue rule proposal.
Voice your opposition to the venue rule proposal and get additional background information on the issue at www.pamedsoc.org/venuerule.