Pennsylvania Bill Seeks to End Medical-Lawsuit Venue Shopping

Pennsylvania state Representative Torren Ecker (R-Abbottstown) is preparing legislation to restore a rule keeping each healthcare lawsuit in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. 

Two decades ago, state lawmakers enacted the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act which forbade patients claiming they suffered from a doctor’s medical mistakes to file their lawsuits in jurisdictions where the alleged harm did not take place. Before that time, much litigation was being filed in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties whose common-pleas courts were known to look especially favorably on healthcare plaintiffs.

The relevant section of the 2002 MCARE law stated “a medical professional liability action may be brought against a healthcare provider for a medical professional liability claim only in a county on which the cause of action arose.” But last summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down that provision. 

The court determined that litigants can file their suits in any county in which the healthcare provider conducts business. Consequentially, many suburban medical facilities are affiliated with large healthcare providers based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In a memorandum describing his upcoming bill, Ecker wrote that Article V, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution allows the General Assembly to define the jurisdictions of the Keystone State’s various courts. The representative insisted that his bill, if enacted, will settle the matter of venue shopping, stipulating that only a court of the county where a medical-liability issue arises can adjudicate that case. 

Ecker argued that the failure to reinstate the venue rule will return Pennsylvania to a time of frequently unreasonable medical-liability verdicts that drive up the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors. He noted that, prior to MCARE going into effect, numerous maternity wards and other important healthcare units closed and many new medical-school graduates fled Pennsylvania for less litigious locales. 

“The health care relied upon by our constituents is too important to leave in the hands of a court shielded from any meaningful recourse by the voters of the Commonwealth,” the representative wrote. “Such important matters of public policy belong in the policy making arm of state government, the General Assembly, and subject to approval by the Governor. Let’s act now to protect our constituents from the damage to health care that independent actuarial studies have shown will be the result of the Supreme Court’s action.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Torren Ecker” by Torren Ecker. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Kumar Appaiah. CC BY-SA 2.0.



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