HAP News Releases and Statements

Medical Liability Rule Change Threatens Pa. Health Care

Harrisburg, Pa. (August 25, 2022) – The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) is disappointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s action today undoing legal reforms that have protected Pennsylvanians’ access to health care for nearly two decades.

With this decision, the court reverted back to an earlier framework that allows personal injury lawyers to move medical liability claims from the counties in which the event occurred to counties that have histories of higher payouts, a practice known as “venue shopping.”

HAP President and CEO Andy Carter released the following statement:

“Two decades ago, all three branches of Pennsylvania government worked together to address a medical liability crisis that threatened Pennsylvania health care. Today’s rule change rejects their effective solution and again jeopardizes care.

HAP and Pennsylvania hospitals fundamentally believe that patients deserve respect and a fair hearing to litigate malpractice claims. The legal rules in place for the past 20 years allowed that to happen.

When venue shopping occurred in 2002 and earlier, distorted payouts and skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums made Pennsylvania one of the least attractive states in which to practice medicine. It became difficult to attract and retain providers in the commonwealth and hospitals had no choice but to cut services, particularly obstetrics and specialty care.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, a historic workforce crisis, surging costs, and payment gaps, Pennsylvania’s health care system is extremely fragile. It is critical to rebuild and ensure hospitals’ viability so they can continue to care for patients and communities. Putting more financial pressure on hospitals and making it even harder to attract direly needed clinicians to the commonwealth will have a devastating effect on health care.

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospital community urge Governor Wolf and the General Assembly to work quickly on solutions to protect Pennsylvanians’ health care by preventing a return of medical liability venue shopping.”

Background:  Legal reforms enacted during 2002 required that claims be considered in the county where the alleged medical liability occurred. Today’s rule change reverts back to the prior rule governing venue in medical malpractice cases with the inclusion of a provision requiring the court to review the decision after two years. This decision also overturns the existing venue statute effective for lawsuits filed on or after January 1, 2023.

Before the 2002 change, regular venue shopping resulted in distorted verdicts. By 2002, medical liability jury verdicts in Philadelphia were more than twice the national average and nearly a quarter were for $1 million or more. During 2001, Philadelphia had more medical liability trials than any other county in the nation and from 1999–2001, Philadelphia had 87 medical liability cases of $1 million or more, only slightly fewer than the entire state of California.

The 2002 reforms changed this. During 2020, only 24 percent of the medical malpractice filings statewide were in Philadelphia, a 71 percent drop from when venue shopping ended.

An actuarial study commissioned by the state Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year forecasted the devastating effect should venue shopping return for medical liability cases. The report forecasts alarming premium increases in some parts of the state that could result in another medical liability crisis.

HAP supports House Bill 2660, which would begin the process of amending the state constitution to allow the General Assembly to establish the venue of civil lawsuits and prevent venue shopping.

Additional information and citations for statistics are available from HAP’s fact sheet about venue shopping.

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About HAP:  HAP is a statewide membership services organization that represents 235 hospitals as well as the patients and communities they serve. Additional information about HAP is available online.

 

2022


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