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May 10th, 2012

Even in Philadelphia, ‘Progress Is Possible’

Medical liability reforms undertaken in Pennsylvania last decade have had the intended effect of reducing the number of meritless lawsuits, particulalrly in Philadelphia, and broader progress in other areas of tort law now seems possible, too.

Writing for Philadelphia Magazine’s “Be Well Philly” blog, Sandy Hingston is exactly right: “progress is possible.”  Pennsylvania’s high court and legislature sought to curb runaway medical lawsuits in Philadelphia 10 years ago and have succeeded in dramatically reducing the abuse of the system as it then existed.  A new collection of data  by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court shows, according to Hingston, “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.”

Now, 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.”  And Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille says that “serious cases and the cases that deserve compensation are being handled well in the system” since reforms were undertaken.    

More recently, Philadelphia’s Chief Administrative Judge John Herron issued on February 15 of this year a sweeping 15-point reform order that, if actually adhered to by trial judges at the Complex Litigation Center, should go a long way in reducing the plaintiff-friendly bias for which the City of Unbrotherly Torts has become known in recent years, particularly with respect to asbestos and mass tort claims.  

Nothing would make us at the American Tort Reform Association happier than removing Philadelphia from our annual list of Judicial Hellholes.  And if lawmakers in Harrisburg enact a much needed venue reform bill that would apply beyond medical lawsuits, and if Philadelphia’s judiciary lives up to both the letter and spirit of Judge Herron’s reform order, we’re very likely to do just that.

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