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State Attempts to Limit Philly Medical Malpractice Awards

courthouse columnsThe Journal of the American Medical Association lists medical negligence as the country’s third leading cause of death. And according to a recent report by Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia is the Pennsylvania state hot spot when it comes to medical malpractice awards. But moves by the courts and lawmakers are positioned to bring an end to the large awards and bring them in line with the rest of the state.

Pennsylvania attempts to limit plaintiff verdicts

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently compiled numbers showing that more med mal cases are tried in Philadelphia than any other county in the state, and also that the city’s jury verdicts are more favorable to plaintiffs.

Some of the Court’s findings include:

  • Philadelphia County accounts for 12 percent of the state’s population but in 2013 it was home of 40% of the state’s plaintiff verdicts in medical malpractice trials
  • Plaintiffs in Philadelphia won 45 percent of the med malpractice cases tried to verdict in 2013, more than in any other county, while in over half the counties, there were no medical malpractice awards for the year

Legislation to curtail med mal cases

With Philadelphia’s plaintiff-friendly atmosphere, it is easy to imagine that medical malpractice claimants from across the state, and out-of-state law firms, seek any opportunity to file their lawsuits in that county. But the Pennsylvania legislature has stepped in, several times, in an attempt to curb the filings.

  • In 2002, the number of medical malpractice cases were cut in half across the state when the legislature enacted a law requiring that the cases be filed only in the jurisdiction where the alleged malpractice took place.
  • In 2012, the administrative judge presiding over the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas adopted a rule to short-circuit toxic tort and dangerous drug cases filed by out-of-state plaintiffs – as a result, the lawsuit filings dropped by more than two-thirds.
  • The legislature adopted an act requiring that a plaintiff show that a defendant is at least 60% responsible before a plaintiff can recover.
  • Most recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enlarged the acceptable reasons that a defendant can request a transfer to another, possibly more favorable, court.

The rules have had some effect; in Philadelphia County, the average number of medical malpractice lawsuits from 2000-2002 was over 1,200. After the 2002 rule change to limit filings, the number of malpractice cases dropped to 577. By 2013, that number was down to 382.

Medical malpractice victims face an uphill battle

Though the Philadelphia statistics may give the impression that medical malpractice can be an easy path to compensation, in reality only a small number of med mal lawsuits are filed each year. According to some estimates, medical errors contribute to around 200,000 deaths in the United States each year. But medical malpractice claims account for only 15% of the personal injury lawsuits filed. The truth is that medical malpractice cases are time-consuming and expensive to see through so experienced malpractice lawyers will not accept a client’s case unless the injuries and damages are documented, legally and factually sound, and worth a substantial amount.