Proposed PA Supreme Court Rule Could Bring Back ‘Venue Shopping’
Jeopardizing Patient Access to Care
HARRISBURG — A proposed rule change from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Civil Procedural Rules Committee would usher the return of skyrocketing medical liability premiums for long-term care facilities and threaten patient access to quality care, says the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA).
Escalating medical liability premiums created a crisis in Pennsylvania from 1997-2000. Reforms shepherded by the state legislature and court system in 2002 stabilized the medical liability insurance market and halted the crisis.
However, the Civil Procedural Rules Committee, one of seven procedural rules committees established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, has proposed to eliminate one of the key pieces of those reforms – the prohibition against ‘venue shopping’.
Currently, medical liability claims can only stand trial in the county where the alleged medical error occurred. The rule change, if enacted, would allow attorneys to move medical liability claims to counties that award higher payouts – a deceptive, unfair practice known as ‘venue shopping.’
The proposed rule is open for public comment between now and February 22. The committee has argued that venue restrictions are no longer necessary because Pennsylvania’s health care providers no longer face skyrocketing medical liability rates.
A coalition that includes PHCA, the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) says repealing the venue rule could result in disastrous consequences.
“A nursing home located in Lackawanna County should not be dragged into a court case in Philadelphia or Allegheny County, simply because the verdicts for plaintiffs may be superior and the awards may be higher,” said R. Sean Buckman, Chairman of the Board at the PA Health Care Association and owner of Carbondale Nursing Home, a 115-bed facility located in Carbondale, PA. “This rule against ‘venue shopping’, in effect for nearly 16 years, has protected long-term care facilities from being forced to defend themselves in venues that barely touch their business.”
“Today, nursing homes face almost the exact crisis that physicians faced in the early 2000s. Providers are under attack from predatory, out-of-state law firms that come to Pennsylvania to file hundreds of lawsuits. Companies are on the brink of financial disaster. Already, we’ve seen long-term care companies sell their buildings, file for bankruptcy, or simply flee the state altogether. Reversing this rule and reinstituting ‘venue shopping’ would make the current legal environment even worse for long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania. And it could spell the end for many providers across the state.”
The current venue rules are the product of a 2002 effort by state government to address ‘venue shopping’ and other reforms, at a time when physicians and health care providers were fleeing Pennsylvania. The Interbranch Commission on Venue, created under Act 13 of 2002, was comprised of appointments from the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. A majority of the Commission recommended that medical malpractice cases only be filed in the county where the cause of action arose. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the commission’s recommendation.