Venue Shopping Behind Philadelphia's High Medical Malpractice Insurance Rates
side note: The link below will direct you to the American Tort Reform Foundation’s 2012 list of Judicial Hellholes, which documents in annual reports various abuses within the civil justice system. Philadelphia was ranked No. 1 on this year’s Judicial Hellholes list. Because a county’s medical malpractice insurance rates are determined largely by the attitude of its court system and the tort laws it is governed by, it should no surprise that Philadelphia physicians pay medical malpractice insurance rates that are amongst the most-expensive in the nation. The average obstetrician practicing in Philadelphia is paying between $110,000 and $190,000 annually for medical liability protection.
The Judicial Hellholes report cited Philadelphia’s disproportionate share of Pennsylvania’s lawsuits due to trial attorneys forum shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts. The report specifically points an accusing finger at the Complex Litigation Center in Philadelphia, where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across the state and the country. Plaintiff-friendly law, expedited procedures, a reputation for a high plaintiff-win rate and generous awards contribute to Philadelphia’s status as a venue of choice.
This trial attorney strategy is commonly referred to as “venue shopping,” the practice of plaintiffs filing suit in jurisdictions that historically have produced large awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, regardless of where the alleged negligence actually occurred. Thankfully, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has taken notice and is trying to pass legislation intended to keep trial attorneys from unfairly seeking an advantage by filing their lawsuits in jurisdictions they perceive to be plaintiff-friendly, e.g. Philadelphia.
House Bill 1552 is designed to keep plaintiffs’ attorneys from unfairly seeking an advantage by filing their lawsuits in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions. The bill would force all personal injury lawsuits to be filed in the county where the respective cause of action first arose. In other words, if a plaintiff suffered an injury in Lancaster County, he or she would have to file their negligence claim in that county’s court of common pleas. Experts expect that — should this bill pass — it would have a deflationary effect on medical malpractice insurance rates.
Tort reform supporters testified before the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee that, at the very least, venue shopping is unfair to local taxpayers who end up providing court resources for the benefit of plaintiffs, often from out of county, with little or no connection to the jurisdiction. It is unfair to the Philadelphia medical community as venue shopping has increased their medical malpractice insurance rates. Jobseekers also suffer, they testified, when employers decide to relocate their facilities and operations away from jurisdictions that become known as destinations for costly “litigation tourism.”