New Pennsylvania Rule Allows Medical Malpractice Lawsuits to Be Filed in Any County
Pennsylvania’s highest court reversed a two-decade-old rule aimed at reducing an outbreak of doctors leaving the state due to high medical malpractice insurance rates. The state Supreme Court issued a long-awaited order allowing plaintiffs to file medical malpractice claims in any county throughout the state. Previously, plaintiffs were restricted to filing their claims where the injury or negligence occurred.
The justices followed the advice of their own Civil Procedural Rules Committee. The Committee’s majority said in a report that medical malpractice cases should be subject to the same regulations as other types of civil litigation throughout the state.
How Does this Change the Medical Malpractice Litigation Process?
The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act was passed by the Pennsylvania legislature roughly 20 years ago in order to minimize the amount of medical malpractice claims filed in the state. Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases were required by the Act to file their cases in the county where the medical negligence occurred.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court repealed this rule in August 2022. As of January 2023, medical malpractice cases may now be filed in any Pennsylvania county. The new rule now allows someone to bring a lawsuit in the county of their choice as long as one of the following three requirements is met:
- Medical malpractice occurred there
- The defendant or defendants can properly be served there (office location, where they conduct business, etc.)
- An event or transaction occurred in that county
This will now allow plaintiffs a choice of venue. This can be beneficial, because some counties have stricter local rules when it comes to medical malpractice claims, and a potential jury may be more biased in certain areas, resulting in less than full compensation.
Benefits of the New Rule
The Committee that reviewed issues with the new rule ultimately decided that any disparities with the new rule were outweighed by benefits to the victims. Many have hesitations about the potential for overburdening certain courts and that plaintiffs will venue shop. Venue shopping occurs when a plaintiff seeks out a venue based on what venue will give them the best compensation in their case.
Even with the drawbacks voiced, three main benefits allowed for the passing of the rule:
- Over the past 15 years, Pennsylvania courts have seen a decline in the number of medical malpractice cases filed across all counties.
- The former rule gave special treatment to defendants, and the new rule provides a fairer process for plaintiffs.
- More rural counties have seen lower results for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases.
With these arguments in mind, the new rule now allows patients to have their cases properly heard in an appropriate venue. In the past, patients may have been forced to file their cases in the venue where the negligence occurred against hospitals and other large medical entities, which can result in a biased jury and lower payouts.
Who Will See an Impact?
The new rule, took effect on January 1, 2023, allows plaintiffs to sue healthcare providers in Pennsylvania in any county where they frequently conduct business or have substantial contacts, regardless of where the actual service was provided.
Due to this, larger counties, like as Philadelphia County and Allegheny County, will likely experience an increase in the number of medical malpractice lawsuit filings because major healthcare providers situated in those metropolitan regions also provide care in neighboring suburban counties. Even if the care was provided in a suburban county, a resulting medical negligence claim can now be pursued in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia or Allegheny County courts.
Effects of the New Rule
The new rule has already considerably impacted Pennsylvania plaintiffs in medical malpractice claims. Some of the state’s largest medical facilities and healthcare organizations are spread throughout many counties. Penn Medicine, for example, operates not only in Philadelphia County, but also in neighboring counties. Furthermore, many patients who live in one county often seek treatment from a practitioner in another county. The new rule permits medical malpractice victims to sue in the county that is most convenient for them.
For example, a Philadelphia resident who works in Bucks County visits a family doctor near their workplace. The medical practice of that family doctor has an office in Philadelphia. If malpractice occurs and results in an injury or death, the patient or their surviving loved ones may file a medical malpractice action against that practitioner in either Bucks County or Philadelphia County. Previously, under the former rule, the case could only be filed in Bucks County where the negligent conduct occurred.
Many defense attorneys will claim that the new venue legislation allows plaintiffs to file lawsuits in the county with the potential to generate the biggest cash award. Philadelphia County has a history of producing some of the state’s largest medical malpractice verdicts. However, in recent years, other counties have begun to follow Philadelphia’s lead.
Expediting the Process
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are likely to choose jurisdictions based on local county rules that affect a case. Case management regulations are one of the most essential local rules that can have a substantial impact on a lawsuit.
The case management system in Philadelphia County places time constraints on the resolution of civil proceedings. As a result, most medical malpractice claims in Philadelphia are resolved within two years of the initial filing. Medical malpractice claims in other counties without case management systems like Philadelphia County’s can take three to four years to resolve.
Hiring a Medical Malpractice Attorney
The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys of Lopez McHugh are ready to help you with your medical malpractice claim. Our trial attorneys have over 50 years of experience and will advocate for you and your family with the dedication and resources required to hold the medical industry accountable for your suffering and losses. Contact us today to see how we can help you with your case.