CHANGES ARE WORKING; CAPS ON DAMAGES CAN HARM WOMEN, CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY; NO
DOCTOR SHORTAGE IN PA
HARRISBURG (June 19, 2006) — According
to a report issued today by the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), recent changes
in the state legal system are having the intended effect of reducing the number
of medical malpractice cases, caps on non-economic damages in medical
malpractice lawsuits can harm vulnerable injured patients and there is no
shortage of doctors in Pennsylvania.
“The Pennsylvania Bar Association is issuing
this report to set the record straight on the issue of medical malpractice in Pennsylvania,” said PBA President Kenneth J. Horoho Jr. “Our
report shows that Pennsylvania’s
Supreme Court and Legislature have taken important and effective steps to
reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in the commonwealth.
Pennsylvanians should be pleased with the results of the changes and should have
confidence that these positive steps will have an even greater impact in the
by Duke Law
School professor Neil Vidmar, the PBA report
indicates that the number of medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania has declined substantially in
recent years. Pennsylvania Supreme Court statistics show that following rule
changes the court put in place in 2002, malpractice claims dropped 37 percent
from immediately preceding years. In 2004, the number of payments from the
compensation fund established under Pennsylvania’s
Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE) was down 12.6
percent and the annual payout was down 17.5 percent.
PBA report also cites findings that additional proposed changes to the legal
system such as imposing financial caps on non-economic damages in medical
malpractice awards could discriminate against women, children, the elderly and
others who are the most seriously injured due to medical negligence. The report
underscores the importance and effectiveness of the jury trial system,
especially in cases involving severely injured citizens.
a time when individual rights are being challenged on many fronts, it is
imperative that we protect the rights of injured patients to seek redress
through the justice system,” Horoho said. “The PBA, which is composed of
lawyers from both the plaintiff and the defense sides of the bar, is vehemently
opposed to the imposition of caps. Experience shows that caps are ineffective.
The evidence shows that caps strip our most vulnerable citizens of their legal rights.”
In addition, the PBA
report notes that caps would not guarantee decreases in insurance premiums for Pennsylvania doctors and
would not guarantee increases in the availability of doctors.
A 2003 U.S.
Government Accounting Office (GAO) report found that it is not possible to show
a direct link between caps and premiums because there are other factors that
distinguished between states with and without caps. In fact, according to the
GAO report, some states without caps had the lowest premiums.
that doctors will not practice in Pennsylvania
does not match reality,” said Horoho. “We agree that professional liability
premiums were a serious problem for Pennsylvania
doctors in the first part of this decade. The fact is, however, that Pennsylvania has had a
modest gain in actively practicing doctors, both in absolute numbers and in
relation to population growth.”
the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Federation of State Medical Boards
show a per capita increase in the number of treating physicians in Pennsylvania. From 1994
through 2004, the number of treating physicians increased 0.7 percent per year
on average. According to the AMA, Pennsylvania
had 8.9 percent more patient care doctors per capita than the U.S. average in
2004 and ranked tenth overall among the 50 states.
said that as the court and legislative changes continue to have a positive
impact on medical malpractice litigation, the PBA looks forward to working with
the state’s business and medical communities to reduce costly medical errors, promote
the use of alternative dispute resolution programs and explore other means to
keep costs in check without sacrificing the legal rights of patients.
Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar
Association exists to promote justice, professional excellence and respect of
the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to
legal services; and serve the 29,000 lawyers who are members of the
Editor’s Note: See attached fact sheet about the PBA’s report. Also, click here for full text of the report.
Marcy Mallory, PBA Communications Director, Ext. 2247
Jeff Gingerich, PBA Communications Manager, Ext. 2216
MALPRACTICE LITIGATION IN PENNSYLVANIA
claims are down
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
statistics show that, following implementation of the court’s rule changes in
2002, malpractice claims dropped 37 percent from immediately preceding years.
In 2004, the number of Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (Pennsylvania’s liability
compensation fund) payments were down 12.6 percent and the annual payout was
down 17.5 percent.
Urban juries do not
The percentage of rulings
against physicians in medical malpractice cases is consistently higher in Philadelphia (37.5 percent) and Allegheny County
(30 percent) than in the rest of the state (19.7 percent). However, a summary
of the injuries in Philadelphia
cases from 2003 and 2004 involving awards of $1 million or more shows that
the plaintiffs’ injuries were very serious.
Malpractice caps are
found to be unfair to women, children and the elderly
Research published in the Emory Law Journal during 2004 found that
cap laws in California, Florida
tend to place ceilings on injuries disproportionately experienced by women,
including injuries resulting from sexual assault and those that impair the
ability to have children. In 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the
state’s cap on pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases because it found
those “with the most severe injuries appear to be at the highest risk for
inadequate compensation.” The court further concluded that many cases that
would be affected by caps involve children.
insurance rates will not necessarily drop with caps on damages
While caps reduce the amounts
of payments to negligently injured patients, a U.S. Government Accounting
Office (GAO) report issued in 2003 found it is not possible to show a direct
link between caps and premiums because there are other factors that distinguish
states with and without caps. Some states without caps had the lowest premiums
of all. Also in 2003, Weiss Ratings Inc., an insurance rating company, concluded
that caps do not impact premiums.
There is no doctor
shortage in Pennsylvania
Statistics from the American
Medical Association (AMA) and the Federation of State Medical Boards show a per
capita increase in the number of treating physicians in Pennsylvania. From 1994 through 2004, the
number of treating physicians increased 0.7 percent per year on average.
According to the AMA, Pennsylvania had 8.9
percent more patient care doctors per capita than the U.S. average in 2004 and ranked
tenth overall among the 50 states.
The PBA-commissioned report, written by Neil Vidmar Ph.D., professor of law, Duke Law School, is posted
PBA’s Web site at www.pabar.org.