The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania have dropped more than 45% over the last decade, since new restrictions were enacted that require claims to meet merit standards and limit where cases can be filed.
The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) issued a report (pdf) on May 18, indicating that malpractice claims declined again in 2010, for the sixth year in a row, to just 1,491 lawsuits.
The AOPC attributes the drop to rules that require attorneys to obtain a certificate of merit from a medical professional who is willing to testify that the defendant failed to meet acceptable medical standards. The rules also require that Pennsylvania malpractice lawsuits have to be filed in the same county where the alleged injury occurred; to prevent attorneys from selecting the county where they believe juries will be more sympathetic.
Since 2000-2002, statewide malpractice claims have declined 45.4%. Philadelphia, which sees the largest number of claims in Pennsylvania, has seen a 70% drop in malpractice lawsuit.
Despite the declining number of lawsuits filed, the state’s doctors have not seen a drop in malpractice insurance premiums. Proponents of tort reform have long held that successful restrictions and caps on malpractice lawsuits would lower the cost of insurance paid by doctors to protect them from lawsuits. However, even with the dramatic decline in malpractice lawsuits, insurance companies in Pennsylvania have not lowered liability premiums.
Pennsylvania legislators have avoided putting in place medical malpractice caps that have been enacted in other states, refusing to limit the size of non-economic medical malpractice awards, which many tort reform proponents have supported.
Proponents of the caps say that they help prevent doctors from leaving the states and keep medical malpractice liability insurance rates down. However, critics say that the caps, set by lawmakers, violate the constitutional right to a trial by jury, because they allow the legislature to step on the toes of jury decisions regarding how much a victim should be awarded as compensation for pain and suffering caused by negligent medical care.