Medical Malpractice Suits Down in Philly

Plaintiffs don't cash in here as much as they used to.

Back in 2002, medical malpractice plaintiffs whose cases were heard in Philly courts were more than twice as likely to win jury trials as the national average—and more than half their awards were for $1 million or more. Naturally, everybody wanted his med-mal suit tried in Philly, with its big-city juries full of underclass citizens favoring the underdog going up against the big, bad surgeon.

But that year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made two significant changes in its rules: It required medical malpractice actions to be brought in the county where the cause of action took place, and it required that attorneys procure a “certificate of merit” from a medical professional stating that the medical procedures in the case lay outside acceptable professional standards. The first change was intended to eliminate venue-shopping, the process in which plaintiffs sought to have their cases heard in the venue most likely to yield positive results. (The plaintiff win rate in Philly back then was three times that of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County.) The second was meant to eliminate frivolous claims. The rule changes were subsequently codified into state law.

Now, a decade later, the Supreme Court has released a report on the results of changes. In Pennsylvania overall, medical malpractice lawsuits are down 44.1 percent from the base years of 2000-2002; in Philly, they’re down a whopping 65 percent. The total number of med-mal filings in the city fell from 1,365 in 2003 to 577 in 2011—a 58 percent decrease. While Philly still won the honor of being designated the nation’s “Number One Judicial Hellhole” by the American Tort Reform Foundation in 2010 and 2011, the medical-malpractice numbers show progress is possible.