Medical negligence is a leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. When you suffer injuries or a loved one dies due to a medical professional's negligence, a defective device, or defective medicine, it's important that victims have the ability to file a claim where it is fairest for them. They are the ones suffering after all.
But in 2003, according to The Morning Call, Pennsylvania's
health care industry warn[ed] that doctors were fleeing in record numbers as a result of soaring malpractice insurance costs.
As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a controversial decision: victims of medical malpractice could sue only in the county where the alleged injury occurred and not in any other county, even if that would cause a serious problem for victims.
An independent study, however, released in February 2020 points out that the alleged reason for the restriction on a medical malpractice victim's ability to choose a better, fairer venue to file a claim was pretty much baseless. Here, we provide an overview of what this study found on this point.
What does the Study of the Impact of Venue for Medical Professional Liability Actions Say?
A Study of the Impact of Venue for Medical Professional Liability Actions, which was conducted by the bipartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, found that the fear of doctors fleeing the state back in the early 2000s was not related to the cost of malpractice insurance. That said, the report does not conclusively identify what was the cause of doctors leaving the state.
What the report does show is this: Pennsylvania actually experienced an increase in doctors before and after the rule to restrict venue was put into place in the early 2000s.
Because of the report's uncertainty, the state's health care industry still wants the rule kept in place while trial lawyers continue to argue against it.
Why does Venue Matter in Medical Malpractice Cases?
Venue matters for strategic reasons as well as for fairness reasons. Most court systems allow plaintiffs to file a claim in:
- the county where the cause of action accrued (where the medical malpractice happened);
- the county where the defendant resides, if it's an individual; or
- the county where the defendant's principal office is located, if it's a business.
Courts in some counties are known to be more favorable to the health care industry than to alleged victims, and vice versa. Having a choice of venue also helps prevent the potential of jury bias in some cases.
For example, if an injured party must file in a county populated by rural communities, he or she could face an uphill battle at trial because these rural juries are often less friendly toward malpractice claims. This could be because of education, politics, or cultural beliefs, among other reasons. It is in the victim's best interest to file a claim where he or she stands a better chance of arguing his or her case.
Taking away choice takes away options, which reduces the victim's rights. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will likely have to decide on this matter again: to return to post-2003 days when victims had options with respect to venues or to the current procedural rules where they do not. This report may have determined the alleged reason for the rule was faulty, but in doing so, it opened up space for more debate on the matter. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on who wins.