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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: February 1, 2019 02:14 PM
From: Senator Lisa Baker
To: All Senate members
Subject: Proposed Change of Venue Rule for Medical Malpractice Claims
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Civil Procedural Rules Committee recently published notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin that it intends to recommend to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court an amendment to Pa.R.C.P. Nos. 1006, 2130, 2156, and 2179 governing venue in medical professional liability actions. I intend to offer a resolution that strenuously objects to implementation of this recommendation without first conducting an extensive study to determine the effects of the proposed amendment and, as a result, whether such changes are warranted.

A major contributor to Pennsylvania’s improved economic condition has been the series of reforms enacted in the early 2000s to address the medical malpractice crisis. After years of political confrontation over powers and responsibilities, these reforms came about through extensive negotiations between the three branches of state government. Act 13 of 2002 created the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Venue (the “Interbranch Commission”), which developed and recommended the crucial rule that helped abate the crisis.

By reining in the costs of excessive litigation and out-of-line awards, Pennsylvania was able to stabilize insurance rates and stem the loss of medical practitioners and facilities. The change to curtail venue shopping brought constructive balance to the system and worked even better than intended, an infrequent occurrence in the world of implementing and realizing reform. There has been no hint that dramatic change was necessary or imminent in 2019.

In this context, the proposed changes promulgated by the Civil Rules Procedural Committee are quite alarming.

Why change now and risk a renewed litigation and cost explosion? There has not been perceptible pressure from the public or from the medical community. The word “fairness” has been offered in justification, but fairness for whom is the big question mark hovering over this issue. Not only would a productive status quo be disrupted. It can be argued that the recent consolidation of medical systems will make them even larger targets. This appears to be a serious self-inflicted wound for our structure of medical care.

Critically, this proposed reversion of the venue rule will certainly compound the already considerable challenges we confront in providing accessible and affordable health care in small communities and rural areas.

Before venue reform was enacted, Philadelphia held more medical malpractice trials than any county in the nation. The number of million dollar awards in the city was only slightly below those for the entire state of California. High-risk medical specialists were moving out of the commonwealth, family practices were closing, and maternity wards were becoming fewer. Insurance premiums were soaring, with no relief in sight. The coalition formed to advocate tort reform was broad in composition and deep in commitment. The concern of many has to be why the Civil Rules Procedural Committee is messing with success.

One of Pennsylvania’s strengths is the medical care system, the institutions, the technology, the practitioners, and the research capacity that are decided competitive advantages and indispensable to the quality of life. If the proposed change moves forward unchallenged, the fear is it will reverse progress and prove immensely destabilizing to medical care as well as the overall economy.

My resolution directs the Legislative Budget and Finance and Committee (the “LBFC”) to conduct an analysis of the impact of the original change brought about by the recommendation of the Interbranch Commission in 2002. It also directs the LBFC to study the impact of the current proposal by the Civil Rules Procedural Committee. The LBFC will be required to hold at least one public hearing and to provide the General Assembly with its final report by January 1, 2020. This will give the legal community, the medical community, the business community, and the public ample opportunity to weigh in with statistics, trends, arguments, and philosophies. The Civil Rules Procedural Committee can also put forward its reasoning for change, but the jury will be the public at large rather than a small segment of the legal community.

It is my belief that without further consideration of this proposed rule change in full openness, we lack the compelling case and the fundamental fairness that are the foundations of a good and wise legal system.

I urge you to join me in sponsoring this critical resolution.

Introduced as SR20