Category Archives: Pennsylvania

June 2016 Newsletter

Republican Health Care Task Force Offers Medical Liability Solutions for Patients, Physicians New health care reforms, including medical liability proposals, were introduced last week by the Republican Health Care Task Force and formally kicked off initiatives that will guide the legislative activities in a new Congress, with a new administration. Led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, the health care reform framework and proposal offered by Republicans aims to empower patients, make the health system more accessible and affordable, and spur medical innovation. “We know that comprehensive medical liability reform that includes caps on non-economic damages will improve patients’ access to quality care while reducing the overall cost of health care in America,” the report states. “Our plan will include liability reform that includes caps on non-economic damage awards, ensuring plaintiffs can recover full economic damages and that patients will not have their damages taken away by excessive lawyer contingency fees.” These reforms have proven effective in states like California and Texas, where patients have greater access to critical care, and health care costs and liability premiums remain affordable. “The HCLA will work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, as well as the new administration, to bring…

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As malpractice verdicts drop in Pennsylvania, officials disagree on implications

Medical malpractice jury verdicts hit a 15-year low statewide last year, a sign the medical community sees as welcome relief from escalating insurance premiums but lawyers view as evidence that injured patients are being unfairly denied an opportunity for redress. In 2004, Pennsylvania juries issued verdicts in 449 medical malpractice cases, with 78.4 percent of those verdicts in favor of the defendant; in 2015, the numbers were 101 verdicts, with 78.2 percent favoring the hospital or medical professional. Similarly, Allegheny County saw its verdict numbers go from 49 in 2004, with 73.4 percent favoring the defense, while all 10 verdicts in 2015 favored the defendant. What’s going on? Legal and medical officials could hardly see the matter more differently. “I think the medical community, and insurers as well, have done a tremendous job of creating a jury bias toward these types of cases,” said Lawrence M. Kelly, president of the Western Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and partner at the Luxenberg Garbett Kelly & George law firm in New Castle, Lawrence County. By painting scenarios in which physicians could abandon whole towns over liability concerns, he said, they’ve persuaded jurors and legislators to construct roadblocks to filing. “The problem is that…

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Medical malpractice suits drop in Pennsylvania

The number of medical malpractice case filings statewide has dropped to its lowest point in a decade and a half of tracking. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed 1,463 such cases in Pennsylvania’s civil courts in 2014, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. That was about half as many as in 2002, before two significant rule changes made by the state Supreme Court. In an effort to weed out frivolous suits, the high court required suits be vetted by medical professionals before being allowed to proceed. It also demanded that a suit be filed in the county where the cause of action took place, which prevented so-called venue-shopping. “Frivolous lawsuits pull health professionals out of serving patients,” said Charles Moran, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which represents doctors. “They can be expensive and time consuming. That money and time is better spent treating patients.” The decline in medical malpractice case filings statewide has been largely driven by Philadelphia, the state’s judicial district with the largest caseload, where the number of medical malpractice case filings last year was a fraction of what it was in 2000. Statewide, 127 medical malpractice cases were resolved through jury verdicts last year, compared with 326…

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Numbers are down, but Phila. is still a haven for medical malpractice suits

After all the hand-wringing and anguish over out-of- state firms flocking to file lawsuits in Philadelphia – the law firms you see advertising on late-night television – is Philadelphia still the notorious plaintiffs’ paradise of common lore? It all depends on your idea of civil litigation bliss. A look at medical malpractice awards is revealing. There is no question: Philadelphia remains the most favorable jurisdiction in Pennsylvania for lawyers seeking big payoffs, a maddening fact to the many physicians and hospitals here. And new data compiled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court make that point incontrovertibly. Although Philadelphia accounts for only 12 percent of the state’s population, 40 percent of medical malpractice trials resulting in verdicts in 2013 took place in the city. Not only are a disproportionate number of cases tried here, but the odds are better for plaintiffs. Philadelphia plaintiffs won 45 percent of cases tried to verdict in 2013, more than any other jurisdiction. In Bucks County, there were only four medical malpractice cases resulting in verdicts, and the plaintiffs won none. In Montgomery, the results were better for plaintiffs; 19 percent of cases went their way, but here again they trailed Philadelphia significantly. In more than half…

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A Case for Malpractice Reform

The medical malpractice process was designed to allow fair and just compensation when a patient is harmed through negligent health care; it is an important part of our health care system. Ideally, it would function smoothly, bringing prompt justice to those who have been wronged. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The system is inefficient, costly and plagued with abuse, often punishing providers who have done no wrong. The consequences are an adversarial environment with reduced and delayed payments (five years is not uncommon), an increase in the cost of medicine, defensive medicine (unnecessary care which is burdensome to scarce resources), and decreased access to health care, especially in fields such as pediatrics, obstetrics, and neurosurgery, where annual malpractice premiums can reach $200,000. In an ideal world, patients should have ready access to compensation when malpractice has been committed, but the current system functions more like a lottery. Thousands of cases are filed, in hopes the practitioner will settle to avoid going to court. Most of these cases never reach the jury, but still cause harm to the system. Of the cases that do reach the court, most are found in favor of the defendant, but vindication comes at great…

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New York is the Clear Leader in Medical Malpractice Awards

Medical malpractice lawsuits paid out more in New York last year than in any other state — and by a huge margin. Awards in malpractice lawsuits paid out roughly $690 million in New York last year, nearly twice that of second-ranked Pennsylvania, which saw $357 million in payouts, according to government data compiled by Jeremy Gower of Diederich Healthcare, a medical malpractice insurer. New York is also the clear leader on per capita payouts, averaging $39 per resident with Pennsylvania trailing at $25 per resident. Malpractice lawsuits have long prompted controversy among policymakers. Some argue they drive up insurance rates and make it difficult to be a physician while others say they’re necessary to protect consumers. This past Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court said the state legislature manufactured an “alleged medical malpractice crisis” and threw out limits on payouts in some wrongful death lawsuits, according to the Miami Herald. And lawyers and industry groups are collecting signatures to get a measure to increase the cap on the ballot in California. Caps on malpractice awards have been overturned in at least nine other states, according to year-old data from PIAA, an insurance industry trade association. And only 15 states lack caps…

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House Passes Health Care Apology Bill

Governor is expected to sign bill that keeps statements of concern out of court. There may be a good reason patients sometimes feel they get the cold shoulder from their doctors after being injured in a medical setting. The physicians may be afraid that even the slightest expression of concern or sympathy for the patient’s pain might be used against them in court. That fear could be alleviated in a bill Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign Wednesday after it passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. The “benevolent gesture” legislation would allow doctors to offer words of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion or commiseration to patients without fear of their words coming back to haunt them in court. The House passed the bill 202-0. The Senate approved the measure unanimously in June. “Medicine is not an exact science, and outcomes may be unpredictable. Benevolent gestures are always appropriate and physicians should not have to fear giving them,” said Dr. C. Richard Schott, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. With passage of the bill, “doctors will feel more comfortable doing so, knowing that an apology is inadmissible unless their expression admits fault.” The bill, which is part of Corbett’s…

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Malpractice Filings Drop in Pennsylvania

According to a report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Pennsylvania medical malpractice filings dropped 10% in 2012. The report showed that 1,675 claims were filed in 2011 compared with 1,508 in 2012. By comparison, there was an average of 2,733 cases filed yearly between 2000 and 2003. In 2003, two significant changes to the malpractice rules in the state took effect. The first required plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case to obtain a “certificate of merit” from a medical professional, attesting that the medical care in the case fell outside of acceptable standards. The second change requires that the malpractice action be brought only in the county where the alleged malpractice took place, this change instituted to avoid what is known as “venue shopping,” when malpractice attorneys pick more favorable jurisdictions to have cases heard. A representative from the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, a trial lawyers’ group, said that the decline indicated that more drastic changes to malpractice laws – such as caps on damages – are not necessary. In Philadelphia, where the majority of malpractice suits are filed in the state, 389 cases were filed in 2012, the second lowest number in 10 years and down from…

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Medical malpractice cases in Lackawanna County in 2012 drop by 53 percent

Lackawanna County’s medical malpractice case filings in 2012 fell 53.8 percent from the average filed in the early 2000s, an ongoing trend sparked by reforms initiated by the state Supreme Court more than a decade ago. Statewide and in most of Northeast Pennsylvania, attorneys have filed far fewer medical malpractice lawsuits annually since 2000-2002 after the passage of two rule changes by the court, an annual report found. One rule change required attorneys to file medical malpractice claims in the county where they occur, eliminating the practice of filing lawsuits in counties where jurors are more plaintiff-friendly. A second change required attorneys to obtain a certificate of merit indicating the procedure in question fell outside acceptable professional standards before they could file their cases. Last year, there were 1,508 medical malpractice cases filed in Pennsylvania, about 44.8 percent fewer than the average filed during the base years, or 2000-2002, according to an Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts report. “These numbers continue to reinforce the value in the requirements adopted by the courts for filing medical malpractice claims in an effort to balance access and fairness in the state court system,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said in a…

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NY Physicians Demand Liability Cost Reduction, Protest Medicare Cuts , at Annual Meeting

At a time when New York physicians face a combustible mix of significant Medicare sequestration cuts, the requirement to implement costly mandatory electronic medical record and ICD-10 reporting systems, and deal with new federal health care reforms, New York State must do all in its power to bring down the extraordinary cost of medical liability insurance, urged physicians at the Medical Society of the State of New York’s Annual House of Delegates meeting this past weekend. “The public needs to be aware that expanding the availability of health insurance coverage to New Yorkers will not enhance timely quality care for patients unless steps are taken to assure that physicians can remain in practice to provide this care” stated Dr. Sam Unterricht, a Brooklyn ophthalmologist who became MSSNY’s new President at this meeting. “To do this, we need to reduce our egregious overhead costs, reduce unnecessary and time-consuming administrative burdens and receive fair payment from insurers for the care we provide to our patients.” New York physicians, particularly those who practice in the NYC-metropolitan region, pay medical liability premiums that are far more than most of their colleagues across the country. For example, for just a single year of coverage, the…

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