MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REPORT

RECENT LEGAL-SYSTEM 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 years ahead.”

Authored 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.

The 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.

“At 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.

“The perception 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.”

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.

Horoho 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 association.

Editor’s Note: See attached fact sheet about the PBA’s report. Also, click here for full text of the report.

Contact:
Marcy Mallory, PBA Communications Director, Ext. 2247
Jeff Gingerich, PBA Communications Manager, Ext. 2216
1-800-932-0311
Communications@pabar.org

 


FACT SHEET

 


KEY REPORT FINDINGS ABOUT

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LITIGATION IN PENNSYLVANIA

 

Medical malpractice 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 favor plaintiffs

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 and Maryland 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.

 

Doctors’ malpractice 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 on the

PBA’s Web site at www.pabar.org.



 


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