Jon Campisi May 8, 2012, 7:32am

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court since a new procedural rule was instituted that required claims to be filed only in the counties where the actions occurred decreased dramatically, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts announced May 7.

The news came at the same time the AOPC announced that the overall number of medical malpractice cases filed statewide have leveled off following a six-year decline.

While recently released figures show a slight increase in the total number of medical malpractice claims filed in 2011, there remains a 44.1 percent overall decline in filings for the latest reporting period from the statistical “base years” of 2000 to 2002, the AOPC stated.

In Philadelphia, home to the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which has the largest caseload of such claims, the decline exceeded 65 percent during that same time period.

“What we’re seeing is essentially a leveling off in what had been a growing decline in numbers that is not surprising,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said in a statement. “Although the numbers are likely to show slight changes in the years ahead, the pattern suggests a solid footing for the systematic tracking and rule changes initiated and instituted a decade ago by the Supreme Court to address concern over medical malpractice litigation.”

The “base years” of 2000 to 2002 referenced by the AOPC is the period of time just before two significant rule changes were instituted by the high court.

One change required attorneys to obtain from a medical professional a certificate of merit that establishes that the medical procedures in a case fall outside acceptable professional standards.

The other change required medical malpractice lawsuits to be brought only in the county in which the cause of action arose, a move aimed at eliminating what’s known as “venue shopping.”

The AOPC also announced that the recently released figures show that 2011 had the fewest number of overall jury verdicts compared to prior years, and that more than 70 percent of the jury verdicts were in favor of the defense.

The number of non-jury verdicts for 2011 remained in single digits for a sixth consecutive year, the AOPC also noted.

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