Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopts Civil Procedure Rules Committee’
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has returned Pennsylvania’s venue rules: PA.R.Civ.P 1006 (individuals), 2130 (partnerships), 2156 (associations) and 2179 (corporations) to its pre 2003 status when medical malpractice defendants were subject to the same venue rules as all other non-governmental defendants. In 2002, many held the view that Pennsylvania was embroiled in a medical malpractice “crisis,” which may have contributed to rising health costs and limiting access to health care. As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Pennsylvania’s Civil Procedure Rule’s Committee’s (“Committee”) venue rule, Pa.R.Civ.P. 1006(a.1), which provided, “a medical professional liability action may be brought against a health care provider for a medical professional liability claim only in a county in which the cause of action arose.”
Fast forward to today, current data shows a significant fifteen-year decrease in medical malpractice filings, resulting in a significant decrease in the amount of claim payments. Accordingly, proponents for returning Pennsylvania to its pre 2003 venue status concerning medical malpractice defendants argued that special treatment for medical malpractice defendants are no longer warranted, and only result in unjust treatment for victims of medical malpractice. More specifically, many rule change proponents believed that juries in less populous counties were more inclined that juries in more populous counties to find in favor of defendants in medical malpractice actions. Opponents of the proposed rule change maintained that a return to pre 2003 venue would increase medical malpractice insurance premiums, cause physicians to leave the state, resulting in reduced access to quality healthcare.
Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget Committee could not determine with any degree of certainty whether the proposed change would increase medical malpractice insurance premiums, let alone to the extent that would cause physicians to leave the Commonwealth. This is due in part because in addition to the venue rule changes, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Act 13 of 2002, i.e., the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE Act), which favored the defense community; and established 231 Pa. Code Rule 1042.3, which mandated a “Certificate of Merit” in order to file a medical professional liability claim.
After careful consideration of all information presented, the Committee concluded the impact of the restrictive venue rules was such that the savings accruing to defendants represents less-than-full compensation to plaintiffs for their injuries. Therefore, the Committee did not find justification for the continued disparate treatment of victims of medical malpractice as it pertains to venue. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Committee’s recommendation, and ordered the venue rule changes to take effect on January 1, 2023.