Back in 2003, state officials were ringing alarm bells over the idea that malpractice lawsuits were somehow driving insurance rates higher and sending doctors running from the state. Patients were going to suffer, they said, unless tort reforms designed to limit “frivolous” malpractice claims were enacted.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently changed the rules on medical malpractice claims in the state, forcing victims to file their claims in the same county where they suffered their injury. Prior to the change, victims were entitled to file a lawsuit anywhere in the state. According to the official wisdom, that meant too many patients were shopping for a sympathetic jury and filing claims that simply wouldn’t fly in their own areas.
Well, a long-anticipated study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has failed to support the idea that catering to the insurance groups and lowering malpractice insurance costs does anything to improve the accessibility patients have to doctors.
While one impassioned legislator swore that he remembered “standing on the steps of the Capitol, watching a lot of those white coat doctors walking by and saying, ‘we just cannot practice here in Pennsylvania anymore’ and dropping their coats in a symbolic exit,” the report doesn’t bear out that dramatic assertion. Doctors were actually moving into the state even before the 2003 changes. It also indicates that malpractice insurance rates went down largely due to national trends — not the change in the law.
Most of those who advocate for the victims of medical malpractice feel that the 2003 rule puts an unnecessary burden on those victims and their families. They should be free to pursue their claims where it is most convenient and favorable. Unfortunately, there’s likely to be no immediate change in the laws simply because insurance companies and others are too invested in keeping the status quo. If you’re the victim of medical malpractice, be smart: Talk to an experienced advocate about your claim.