After a six-year decline in medical malpractice lawsuits, a new report shows that claims have leveled off in Pennsylvania. Total malpractice claim filings went from a high of 2,904 from 2000 to 2002, to a low of 1,491 in 2010. A total of 1,528 claims were filed in 2011.
Although the consumer rights group Public Citizen contends that the decline reflects a nationwide reduction in malpractice lawsuits, the Pennsylvania judiciary attributes the changes to two rules implemented in 2003.
The first rule requires attorneys seeking to file malpractice cases to obtain a certificate of merit from a health-care professional. The certificate of merit establishes that the medical treatment in the case fell short of acceptable professional standards.
The second rule mandates that medical malpractice lawsuits must only be brought in the county where the injury took place. This requirement is intended to eliminate “venue shopping” — the practice of finding a jurisdiction with more favorable laws and filing the lawsuit there. After the 2003 rule changes, the number of filings in the state of Pennsylvania dropped significantly.
According to the medical malpractice resource page of Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System, 2011 had the fewest number of jury verdicts compared with other years, and more than 70% of 2011 jury verdicts favored the defense.
For the sixth consecutive year, the number of non-jury verdicts was in the single digits. In 2011, only seven non-jury verdicts were rendered — four for the defense and three for the plaintiff. Of the verdicts that favored plaintiffs, all were for $500,000 or less.
There were a total of 110 jury verdicts in 2011 — 78 in favor of the defense and 32 in favor of the plaintiff. Awards for plaintiffs were as follows: nine received $500,000 or less; seven received $500,000 to $1 million; 10 received $1 million to $5 million; two received $5 million to $10 million; and four received more than $10 million.