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Medical malpractice reform reduces the number of cases heard

Medical malpractice reforms are reducing caseloads in Pennsylvania courts. The state Supreme Court celebrates its 10th anniversary of lower caseload reforms. Though the court system comes out ahead with the reforms, what about injured patients? Along with decreased medical malpractice cases due to things such as hospital negligence in Pennsylvania, plaintiffs' successful verdicts have also declined.

Requirements that cases must be filed in the venue where the cause of action arose and that a "certificate of merit" accompanies the lawsuit, have generated lower numbers of medical practice suits. Complaints must now include expert agreement that a "reasonable probability" must exist that a medical professional "deviated from accepted standards of medical care."

These new standards have influenced a decline in medical malpractice filings for lack of "meritorious data," and lawsuits filed primarily to obtain beneficial financial settlements. In the 10 years since these standards were installed, there has been a 47 percent decline in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The key component of the process involves the "reasonable probability" language in the case filing standards. Since another respected medical professional must evaluate the facts of each case, additional responsibility falls on these medical experts, who must state whether a malpractice case should proceed against another doctor.

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has also been asked to consider capping damages on "pain and suffering" allegations, they have declined to consider further modifications in the current rules. The court believes that current standards and procedures are working as intended.

The court's goal was allegedly neither to penalize victims or the legal community, nor to simply reduce court caseloads. The objective of reducing frivolous and weak cases, primarily filed to achieve a fast monetary settlement, is apparently succeeding. Plaintiffs who successfully pass the initial "reasonable probability" test still have their day in court. Experienced attorneys still represent plaintiffs and defendants effectively.

What do you think? Has the reform inadvertently cut out medical malpractice plaintiffs who deserve their day in court?

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, "Pa. medical malpractice reform credited for lower caseload," Amaris Elliott-Engel, May 21, 2012

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