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 news release.
In Lackawanna County, there were 30 medical malpractice cases filed in 2012, tied for the lowest amount filed since 2002, according to AOPC records.
Luzerne County saw a decline in the number of medical malpractice cases filed, as well. Though the number of filings countywide topped 40 in five of the previous six years, attorneys filed just 30 in 2012 – an 11.8 percent decrease from the base years.
Though some experts laud the dip in case filings as a positive, some plaintiff attorneys say tort reform restricts the public’s ability to receive reasonable compensation for injuries and, in many cases, eliminates accountability for hospitals and physicians.
Tort reform often shifts costs back on the victims and families, attorneys said. But insurance companies are left big financial winners, because their earnings from commercial insurance premiums far exceed what they pay in claims.
Scranton-based attorney David Fallk said the reform doesn’t improve patient safety, because it doesn’t cut down on errors.
“In no state can they say that the number of malpractice-related injuries or deaths have gone down since they enacted tort reform,” he said. “The number of patient safety errors are still unacceptably high.”
Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania spokesman Roger Baumgarten said further reforms are needed in state to help slash insurance premiums paid by hospitals.
“Medical liability premiums in Pennsylvania continue to be twice, on average, what they were more than a decade ago,” he wrote in an email.
The state hospital association that Mr. Baumgarten represents advocates the phase-out of the Mcare Fund, which was established to ensure appropriate compensation for persons injured due to medical negligence.
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