Category Archives: Pennsylvania

April 2019 Newsletter

Risky business: Lawsuit venue shopping harms access to care An overview of Pennsylvania’s recent proposed changes to lawsuit venue filing rules highlights the risk it adds to accessible and affordable care. Following a surge of liability lawsuits in locations that were seen as ruling favorably to plaintiffs, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a rule that required a plaintiff to file the lawsuit in the county where the alleged medical error occurred. When recent discussions on changes to this rule to allow for “venue shopping” were made public, justices agreed to delay any changes until a legislative study could be done on the matter. A public hearing made the position of access to care advocates clear: “…Doctors and hospitals would be reluctant to partner with facilities located in a city where juries tend to favor plaintiffs over defendants, rewarding the former with sizable judgments,” a recent Medscape article reflected. Restrictions on venue shopping have reduced medical lawsuit abuse in the state of Pennsylvania, bringing the state’s medical liability compensation fund to a record surplus. The risks of venue shopping “will need to [be weighed] carefully before deciding whether the venue rule should stand as it is or be altered,” the article…

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February 2019 Newsletter

PA Supreme Court avoids rush to judgement on liability rule changes The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it would delay a proposal that could encourage medical lawsuit abuse across the state. At issue is a proposed rule change that would allow lawsuits to be filed outside of the county where the incident in question occurred. The announcement followed a request by the state Senate to study the issue further before any changes are made. The legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee will look at how the location where liability lawsuits are filed impacts access to care, costs, and compensation. Fifteen years ago, lawsuits could be brought forth in any county where the doctor or hospital did business. Philadelphia, which built up a reputation for its litigious environment, became the city of choice for personal injury attorneys “venue shopping” their lawsuit. The Senate’s report is due to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by Jan. 1, putting a hold on any changes this year. To read more about the proposed changes in Pennsylvania’s liability laws, click here. Costs remain crippling even as liability lawsuits decline While the frequency of medical liability claims show a positive downward trend, the cost of defending a lawsuit and average…

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court relents for now on medical malpractice changes

SOURCE: The Morning Call The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily set aside its contentious proposal to ease 17-year-old restraints on medical malpractice lawsuits. In a letter, the high court informed Pennsylvania Senate leaders it accepted their request to postpone action pending review by a legislative research office. At issue is whether to roll back a 2002 court rule requiring malpractice lawsuits to be filed in the county where the alleged medical error occurred, not where a jury might view the claim most favorably. The Democrat-majority court’s proposal drew scorn from Republican lawmakers, and from doctors and their lobbyists. The opponents said “venue shopping” would unleash frivolous lawsuits and drive up doctors’ malpractice insurance costs, as sometimes occurred before the rule was instituted with other malpractice changes in 2002 and 2003. Democratic lawmakers sided with trial lawyers, who were asking the court to make the change. They argued the venue restriction makes it impossible to find impartial juries in some rural counties and pointed out that no other industry faces similar curbs on civil lawsuits claiming injury or negligence. The Senate last week passed a resolution asking the court to delay a decision on the policy change until year’s end…

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January 2019 Newsletter

Pennsylvania liability rule change could lead to increase in lawsuit abuse A rule that helped stabilize the medical liability market in Pennsylvania faces the threat of repeal, bringing worry that medical lawsuit abuse could return. Implemented in 2002, reforms mandated that medical liability claims could only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred to avoid “venue shopping” lawsuits to courts that had a history of favoring large verdicts and personal injury attorneys. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now proposes eliminating that rule, allowing victims to file lawsuits in any county where the defendant does business — even if the incident in question occurred elsewhere. A coalition that includes the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) cites this rule as the primary reason the system has stabilized to its current point. “If history is any indication, this could have devastating effects on patient care,” said Danae Powers, MD, president of PAMED. “In the years before we restricted venue shopping, medical liability premiums rose so quickly that some physicians couldn’t obtain the insurance they needed to treat patients. Others chose to leave Pennsylvania or…

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Physicians say Pennsylvania ‘Venue Shopping’ Rule Could Result in Skyrocketing Malpractice Premiums

SOURCE: Physicians News Digest HARRISBURG, Pa. – A proposed rule change from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could usher the return of skyrocketing medical liability premiums for physicians and threaten patient access to quality care, says the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED). Escalating medical liability premiums created a crisis in Pennsylvania when the state lost approximately 10 percent of its physicians between 1997-2000. Reforms by the state legislature and court system in 2002 stabilized the medical liability insurance market and reversed the crisis. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently proposed to eliminate one of the key pieces of those reforms. Currently, medical liability claims can only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred. The rule change would eliminate this restriction and allow attorneys to move medical liability claims to counties that award higher payoffs – a practice known as “venue shopping.” The proposed rule is open for public comments between now and Feb. 22. The court argues that venue restrictions are no longer necessary because Pennsylvania’s physicians no longer face skyrocketing medical liability rates. A coalition that includes PAMED, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) says the…

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June 2018 Newsletter

Liability reform empowers physicians to avoid defensive medicine While evidence strongly suggests that the potential for liability lawsuits results in treatments and tests that may not be otherwise necessary, new data shows that medical liability reform may be empowering physicians to go on the offensive together with their patients. A newly published analysis compared diagnosis and treatment patterns in patients suspected of having coronary artery disease between states where liability reforms have been adopted and states without non-economic damage limits in place. The study included 36,647 physicians in nine states with reasonable limits adopted between 2003 and 2005, and 39,154 in states that had not taken any action to utilize limits on non-economic damages to rein in lawsuits. Physicians in states with reasonable liability limits were less prone to rely on angiography as a first diagnostic test and more likely to order noninvasive stress testing, the report found. In addition, fewer patients were referred for angiography following initial stress testing. These physicians also performed fewer percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) procedures after ischemic evaluation, with indications that these patients were offered medical therapy as an alternative. “Our study suggests that physicians who face lower malpractice risk may be less concerned with…

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Pennsylvania physicians could face more medical negligence cases

Pennsylvania doctors could be held liable for harm even in cases where the patient suffered a known complication if the state’s Supreme Court doesn’t overturn a lower court ruling. In a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Mitchell v. Shikora, justices will determine whether trial judges can suppress expert witness testimony on the known complications of a medical procedure. If the state’s high court allows trial judges to bar that testimony, the state’s legal landscape would change and become even less favorable to physicians who already face unlimited noneconomic damages and other legal hurdles, the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies, the Pennsylvania Medical Society and other state physician organizations said in an amicus brief filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “The upshot will be that any patient can sue a surgeon or physician for any complication or unavoidable risk and a patient will be able to recover against a physician in the absence of negligence where the complication that occurred could not have been avoided even with the utmost care,” the brief states. The case stems from a laparoscopic hysterectomy where the patient’s bowel was perforated. The patient, Lanette Mitchell, sued obstetrician-gynecologist Evan Shikora, DO, for medical…

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May 2018 Newsletter

Maryland trial court attempts to redefine liability standards Under consideration by Maryland’s highest court is a case that attempts to redefine professional standards of care – and negate the testimony of expert witnesses. The basis of the case stems from a medical liability trial in which instructions provided to the jury deviated from well-established law on measuring standard of care as what a ‘reasonably competent’ physician would be expected to do, per expert witness testimony. Instead, the jury was instructed to consider only what a ‘reasonable layperson’ would do – potentially warping how physician negligence is defined. The Litigation Center of American Medical Association and State Medical Societies joined the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi) and the Medical Mutual Liability Society of Maryland in filing an amicus brief that not only cited the likely increase in meritless lawsuits and implications for standards of other professionals in court, but also noted that experts must be relied on because medical procedures are not common knowledge. “Letting juries nullify professional standards would upend the basic premise that professional malpractice claims involve specialized knowledge and duties that laypeople cannot assess based on their common knowledge,” the brief states. A lower appeals court agreed that…

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Judge Stops State Plan to Take $200M Out of Malpractice Fund

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday blew a $200 million hole in Pennsylvania‘s state budget by throwing out a law that appropriated the surplus from a state-created medical malpractice insurer of last resort. U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner sided with the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association and declared the 2017 law violated the U.S. Constitution. Conner said the fund is private property that may not be seized by the government without fair compensation. The fund, he wrote, “has a perceptible benefit: it assures availability of medical professional liability coverage throughout the commonwealth at no public cost. By the same token, it also has a consequence: the General Assembly cannot claim carte blanche access to the association’s assets.” The law that authorized the transfer was the annual amendments to the Fiscal Code , a critical part of the $32 billion budget. The wider implications of the Fiscal Code’s fate were not immediately clear. House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said they are reviewing their options, “especially in light of what appears to be an absolutely overly broad order — that goes way beyond the legal of the case.” The fund consists of money from policyholder premiums and investment income…

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March 2018 Newsletter

Bad examples: New York, Pennsylvania lead national liability rates Without reform to keep medical lawsuit abuse in check, examples of the inefficiencies of our nation’s liability system are emerging in several states in the form of increasingly large payouts. According to a recent survey by Diederich Health Care, a medical liability insurance and consulting company, New York topped the list for the largest liability payouts in 2017 with a total of nearly $618 million, with Pennsylvania second at $342 million and Illinois not far behind with $301 million. What do these states have in common? None have reasonable limits on non-economic damages in place, with liability climates that have worsened in recent years due to lawmakers who are more likely to push for changes that benefit personal injury attorneys rather than patients. In New York, 30,000 members of the Medical Society of the State of New York opposed extending the state’s statute of limitations on liability claims because it would increase their already high liability costs and drive more doctors out of the state. Unfortunately, the law passed, lengthening the statute of limitations from 15 to 30 months, beginning not when the error occurred, but the date at which the…

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