Number of Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Claims Continues to Drop

According to a new report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the number of reported Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims in 2011 is at least 40 percent lower from the state’s high water mark of 2000 to 2002. This is the fourth consecutive year that the number of claims has been at least 40 percent lower than the years 2000 to 2002.

According to the new report, the number of medical malpractice claims filed in Pennsylvania for 2001 was 1,528, or 44.1 percent less than the average number of medical malpractice claims filed annually between 2000 and 2002.

Many medical malpractice pundits credit the decrease in claims frequency to tort reforms that the Commonwealth legislated in 2002 and went into effect in 2003. The legislation allows medical malpractice damages to be paid over time, eliminates the practice of venue shopping, created more stringent requirements for expert witnesses, a strict certificate of merit requirement and established a seven-year statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

According to those who track Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice data, the most effective of the state’s 2002 medical liability tort reforms have been the certificate of merit requirement and the elimination of venue shopping.

The Pennsylvania certificate of merit requirement mandates that when any legal action alleging that a healthcare professional deviated from an acceptable professional standard is filed, it must be followed within the following 60 days by the submission of a certificate of merit letter—signed by a healthcare professional practicing in a similar specialty—that states that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional standards and that such conduct was a cause in bringing about the harm. The success of this reform can be seen in the dramatic drop in claims frequency. The certificate of merit requirement effectively restricted access to the courts for large numbers of frivolous lawsuits.

Pennsylvania’s 2002 venue shopping reform dealt with the practice of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in court districts that have little relation to the cause of action or the defendant, but that have a history of favoring plaintiffs. In Pennsylvania, that jurisdiction had most commonly been Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love has the dubious reputation of being consistently on the American Tort Reform Association’s Judicial Hellhole List, which annually ranks the most plaintiff-friendly court jurisdictions in the nation. Philadelphia was No. 1 on the Judicial Hellhole list for 2011. Looking at the data compiled by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the success of the venue shopping restriction is impressive. Previous to the restriction, an average of 1,365 medical malpractice claims were filed in annually in Philadelphia; in 2010, the number had fallen to just 381.

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