Venue Rule Change

COVID-19 Made Health Care Providers Vulnerable, A Change in Venue Rule Could Make It Worse: Support House Bill 2660 to Amend the State Constitution

Pennsylvania State Representative Rob Kauffman has introduced House Bill 2660 to amend the Pennsylvania constitution to, “resolve the question of whether the General Assembly may legislate venue of lawsuits in civil cases."

What is venue?

Venue is the location where a criminal or civil case may be filed. For cases in state court, venue means the county or counties in which a case may be filed. For federal court cases, the district or division where a case may be filed.

Background

Current Pennsylvania law, via a procedural rule adopted by the Supreme Court in 2003, specifies that medical malpractice cases may only be filed in the county in which the alleged malpractice occurred.

In 2019, the state’s Civil Procedural Rules Committee published a proposed rule change that would reverse the existing venue rule (the county in which a medical malpractice case may be filed). This change will expand venue to additional counties beyond the county in which the alleged malpractice occurred.

A Senate resolution passed in February 2019 directed Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study the impact of venue for medical professional liability actions. The LBFC’s study was released February 2020.

The LBFC looked at venue from the period of 1996 through 2018. The study did not reach a definitive conclusion on the impact of the 2003 venue rule. Report highlights include:

  • The cost of medical professional liability insurance in Pa. increased significantly from 1996 to its peak around 2007, before decreasing.

  • The LBFC acknowledged that a change in the venue rule, coupled with the regionalization of hospital services, would likely have a destabilizing effect on the insurance market, at least in the short term, as insurers will likely have a more difficult time predicting costs.

  • The number of medical malpractice filings has decreased by 44.9 percent between the period of 2000-2002 and 2015-2017.

  • Compensation for injuries from medical negligence by physicians decreased by 13.7 percent from 2003 to 2018.

  • LBFC was unable to reach a conclusion on the impact of venue on patient access to health care. It noted that access to care involves many different variables including health insurance coverage and geographic locations.

How does changing the venue rule affect Pennsylvania physicians?

By allowing venue in counties with little to no relation to the underlying cause of action, claimants could shop for verdict friendly venues in which to file their suits. As was the case before steps were taken in 2002 to address the medical malpractice crisis, the state will return to:

  • Higher medical professional liability insurance premiums
  • PA less attractive state for physicians to practice
  • Patient access to care issues

What Can You Do?

While the Supreme Court has not acted on the proposed rule change, it continues to be a threat. To that end, PAMED supports House Bill 2660, a Constitutional amendment that will strip the Supreme Court’s ability to establish venue and place the matter in the hands of the legislature.

Please ask your legislators to support House Bill 2660 to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution to protect the venue rule.

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