Pa. medical malpractice claims drop 45 percent in past decade, with 68 percent decline in Phila.

By Jon Campisi | Jun 5, 2013

The number of medical malpractice claims filed statewide have dropped dramatically in

recent years, according to the latest available case statistics.

The 1,508 medical malpractice cases filed in Pennsylvania’s civil courts represented a near 45 percent decline from the “base years” of 2000-2002, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which released the statistics on June 4.

The figures were even more pronounced in Philadelphia, whose First Judicial District has the largest civil caseload statewide, with a near 68 percent decline during that same time period, the AOPC announced.

The “base years” refer to period of time just before two significant rules changes were adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: one requiring lawyers to obtain “certificates of merit” from physicians that establishes that the medical procedures referenced in a civil case fall outside acceptable standards, and the second requiring medical malpractice actions to be brought only in the county where the cause of action arose.

The adoption of the second rule amendment was designed to clamp down on “venue shopping,” or filing a civil claim in a court that may be viewed as plaintiff-friendly.

While 2012 saw 1,508 medical malpractice cases filed in the state’s civil court system, the numbers were higher the previous year, with 2011 seeing a recorded 1,675 such filings.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille hailed the announcement as positive news for the state’s often stressed civil court system.

“These numbers continue to reinforce the value in the requirements adopted by the courts for filing medical malpractice claims in an effort to balance access and fairness in the state court system,” Castille said in a statement. “This represents another example of the history of collaboration and cooperation among the three branches of state government in addressing what, just a few years ago, was one of the Commonwealth’s more vexing challenges.”

A look at the recently released statistics show that nearly 80 percent of the jury verdicts in medical malpractice civil trials in 2012 were for the defense.

And two of the only three reported non-jury verdicts during last year also went to the defense.

The AOPC noted that the statistics didn’t include settlement totals, since settlement amounts are often confidential or not reported to the courts.

In Philadelphia in particular, which in recent years has been viewed as a haven for plaintiffs’ lawyers, the numbers showed a steady decline in med mal filings throughout the past decade.

The 2000-02 average number of such filings was 1,204, the statistics show.

The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas registered 577 filings in 2003, dropping to 389 in 2012.

The year with the highest number of medical malpractice filings in Philadelphia during the study’s timeframe was 2007, with a total of 586 recorded filings.

Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh, had the second-highest number of med mal filings behind Philadelphia for the study period, averaging 396 for the years 2000-02.

In Allegheny County, however, the numbers were not that significantly different from 2003 to 2012: the former saw 272 medical malpractice filings while the latter saw 281.

Still, that county experienced a 29 percent drop in overall medical malpractice filings during the decade-plus period in which the stats were compiled.

As for trial outcomes, the statistics show that during the period of 2000 to 2003, out of a total of 407 medical malpractice cases filed in Philadelphia County, 241 resulted in defense verdicts.

Fifty-four of the cases resulted in plaintiffs’ verdicts of $500,000 or less while nine cases resulted in verdicts of more than $10 million, the statistics show.

For 2012, however, 14 out of 27 medical malpractice cases ended in defense verdicts.

Five cases ended with jury verdicts of $500,000 or less while two ended with plaintiffs being awarded more than $10 million in damages.

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