The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania dropped 10% in 2012 and are likely attributable to two significant changes in the state’s malpractice rules, according to a report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
In 2012, 1,508 claims were filed vs. 1,675 in 2011. Both figures are substantially lower than the average 2,733 cases that were filed each year from 2000 to 2002, prior to changes in malpractice law adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In 2003, the first change to malpractice law took effect, requiring plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case to obtain a “certificate of merit” from a medical professional attesting that the medical care in the case fell outside of acceptable standards.
The second change requires the malpractice action be brought only in the county where the alleged malpractice took place. This was instituted to avoid what is known as “venue shopping” — when malpractice attorneys pick more favorable jurisdictions to have cases heard.
The decline in overall malpractice cases indicates that more drastic revisions to malpractice laws, such as caps on damages, are not necessary, according to a representative from the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (a trial lawyers’ group).
In Philadelphia, where the majority of malpractice suits are filed in the state, the number of cases was 389 in 2012 – down from 418 cases in 2011, and the second lowest year on record in the past decade.
Overall, there were 27 jury verdicts in 2012, compared with an annual average of more than 100 from 2000 and 2003. Among the 27 verdicts, the majority (14) favored the defense. Five verdicts in the plaintiff’s favor were for less than $500,000, and two verdicts were for awards greater than $10 million.