Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filings Down After Law Changes

Since new state laws went into effect in 2003 regarding the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania, the average number of new complaints filed each year is down 41% when compared to the years before the procedural changes were adopted.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) released new statistics on April 9, 2009, regarding the state’s medical malpractice case filings and verdicts for 2008.

The number of new malpractice lawsuits filed has remained stable in recent years, with 1,602 filing in 2008. However, when compared to the “base years” of 2000 through 2002, before the new rules went into effect, the filings are down substantially.

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While statistics show a 41% decline statewide, in the judicial district of Philadelphia, where the largest number of cases are filed every year, malpractice lawsuits are down 54% over the same period.

The decline in medical malpractice litigation in Pennsylvania is attributed to two new procedural rules that were adopted by the state in 2003. The rules were designed to ease the effects of rising malpractice insurance premiums while maintaining access to the courts for the most egregious cases.

The first rule adopted requires that the plaintiff file a “certificate of merit” from a medical professional that establishes that the medical treatment fell below the applicable standard of care.

The second rule limited plaintiffs to filing their complaint in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. This prevented venue shopping, where cases could be filed in more favorable counties where juries tend to award larger damages, such as Philadelphia.

“The latest statistics provide additional evidence that the sharp drop in medical malpractice litigation, which began in 2003, was not a temporary correction, but a sustained and stable response to the procedural rule changes adopted by the Supreme Court and the statutory changes enacted by the General Assembly,” said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille, in a press release issued by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Several smaller counties in Pennsylvania have seen increases in the number of filings after the changes, largely caused by the requirement that cases be filed where the malpractice occurred. The largest increase was seen in Montgomery County, where the number of medical malpractice lawsuit filings increased from an average of about 20 cases per year during the “base years”, to an average of 97 per year since the changes when into effect.


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