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 jury verdicts in 2000.
If initiating medical malpractice cases has become more difficult, winning the cases is no easier. Data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts show four out of five jury verdicts statewide are for the defense.
Lehigh and Northampton counties had seven and three medical malpractice jury verdicts last year, respectively. In none of the 10 cases did the plaintiffs win.
“Statistics show that the overwhelming majority of malpractice claims are dropped, dismissed, withdrawn, or found in favor of the defendant,” Moran said. “In other words, there is a high amount of frivolous and meritless lawsuits that are filed.”
He said the legal changes to limit such suits “have not kept legitimate claims from being filed and winning in courts.”
Of the jury verdicts for plaintiffs last year, 15 resulted in awards less than $1 million, seven awards were from $1 million to $5 million, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. One award was between $5 million and $10 million, and one was for more than $10 million.