February 2019 Newsletter

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  • February 28, 2019

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 payout are going the other way – up.

Detailed in the recent report titled, “Medical Malpractice in America: A 10-year Assessment with Insights” were national trends of claim frequency, payments, and root causes across a patient population of 124,000.

The report highlighted higher costs for managing medical professional liability claims, with average defense and case management expenses increasing by three and a half percent annually to $46,000 – an amount that outpaces consumer and legal inflation rates.

“Beyond legal fees, the use of MPL defense tools (mock trials, computerized renderings, jury studies, witness preparation) is increasing, as are their costs,” the report highlighted.

The report also found an indemnity payment increase of three percent per year, to $360,000. While this rate of growth outpaced the consumer price index, it was within the range of medical inflation trends.

To read more about the latest in liability trends, click here

News briefs: Liability climate updates in North Dakota, New Mexico

New Mexico hospital executives have recently faced high hurdles in recruiting physicians. Most often cited as driving factors are physician compensation, poverty, and poor reputation of public schools.

But medical liability risks can’t be ruled out.

In a recent report in the Albuquerque Journal, Jeff Bourgeois of the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, N.M. said taxes and liability limits do matter.

“If physicians feel like they can’t earn an income commensurate with other states,” Burgeois said, or they have to “pay more in taxes or risk practicing in an unfriendly litigious environment … it becomes a much less attractive place.”

In North Dakota, a 2018 challenge to reasonable limits on non-economic damages has now made it to the state Supreme Court.

The Court is set to hear arguments this week that could put access to care across the state in jeopardy.

In an initial ruling by a lower court, Judge Cynthia Feland wrote that the law “provided no explanation about how the $500,000 figure was chosen or how it would accomplish the Legislature’s health care reform goals of increasing access, controlling costs and maintaining or increasing quality.”