Looking Back and Ahead * New Year New Legislature * Access to Health Care Threatened by Proposed Court Rules * Lincoln Radio Journal * In the News
Civil Justice Reform in Pennsylvania: Looking Back and Looking Ahead
2018 was a great year for PCCJR. We solidified our status as the leading voice on civil justice reform in the state. Newspapers and publications from across Pennsylvania carried our op-eds and sought our comments on important issues of litigation and liability. PCCJR took the reform message directly to the halls of the capitol in efforts to both pass and block legislation.
Perhaps no issue received more attention or was subject to more drama than the legislature’s passage of S.B. 936 only to be vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf. This important reform to the Workers’ Compensation system would have improved health outcomes for injured workers, curtailed the dangerous practice of profiting off medically unproven compound creams and helped prevent opioid addiction among injured workers. In vetoing the bill, the governor promised to take executive action to alleviate the concerns the measure sought to address. However the prescription guidelines implemented by the Department of Health do little to address the underlying problem of opioid addiction among injured workers. Getting this bill to the Governor’s desk was an important victory for the coalition of organizations supporting SB 936, and we predict this is not the last word Pennsylvania will hear on this issue.
Other issues, such as limiting punitive damages for long term care facilities, asbestos transparency, appeal bond reform, and landowner liability, remain unresolved and will likely see action in the upcoming legislative session.
PCCJR achieved another significant victory by preventing legislation to raise the statutory damages amount in the Unfair Trade Practices/Consumer Protection Act from getting to the floor of the House.
The 2018 elections saw the creation of PCCJR’s first Legislative Voters Education Guide, which focused on candidates for the state House, state Senate and Governor. The guide examined their positions and voting records on legislation impacting the litigation climate.
Of course, no year is complete without a top ten list of the most ridiculous lawsuits. This list by the Faces of Law Suit Abuse ranges from head-scratchers to mind-numbing madness, including #4 where a 69-year old Dutch man claims his age makes him less desirable on Tinder, so he’s suing to legally change his age to 49! Really.
Looking ahead, PCCJR is preparing for a major effort to protect the court venue rules that determine where a medical malpractice case can be filed (see article below). We also look forward to working with the new Chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to further reform legislation and prevent legislation harmful to employers, health care providers, local governments, and taxpayers.
In addition, PCCJR expects that 2019 will see new attempts to expand concepts of liability such as current efforts to sue lead paint manufacturers under inventive theories of public nuisance. PCCJR will stand strong for fairness and thwarting lawsuit abuse in any form.
New Year – New Legislature
The newly elected legislature was sworn in on January 1, 2019. Both chambers will reconvene on Tuesday, January 15 for a two-year cycle that has Republicans with a 110-92 majority in the state House and a 29-21 majority in the Senate.
Leadership in the Senate remains consistent with Senator Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) elected as President pro tempore, Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre) as Majority Floor Leader and Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) as Minority Floor Leader. Senator Lisa Baker (R – Luzerne) has been appointed Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) is expected to remain as Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee.
In the House, Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) remains Speaker of the House, while Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) takes over as Majority Leader. On the Democratic side, Frank Dermody(D-Allegheny) will continue to lead his caucus. Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) was named the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee after long-time Rep. Ron Marsico’s (R-Dauphin) retirement. Rep. Joseph Petrarca (D-Westmoreland) continues as the committee’s Democrat chair.
Access to Health Care Threatened by Proposed Curt Rules
Just before 2018 came to a close, a proposed rule change to Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure threatened to send the commonwealth’s physicians, medical professionals, and their cases back into the Philadelphia court system, the Number 6 Judicial Hellhole in the nation!
Pennsylvania was in the grip of a medical malpractice crisis in the early 2000’s. A major contributor to this crisis was the high number of medical malpractice cases filed in the Philadelphia court system, where verdicts are notoriously high and defendants with little to no liability often settle to avoid the risk of a large verdict. The medical malpractice venue rules adopted as a result of Act 13’s Interbranch Commission on Venue’s recommendations have prevented physicians from being dragged into the Philadelphia court system unless the cause of action arose there. The impact of the venue rules adopted at the end of 2002 can be seen quite vividly in this report from the PA Supreme Court which tracks the number of medical malpractice cases filed in each county. Between 2000 and 2002, there was an average of 1204 medical malpractice cases filed in Philadelphia per year. That figure plunged by half in 2003 and continued to decline until just recently.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are now attempting to change the rules back to a time when physicians from across the state were dragged into Philadelphia for just having a remote business connection with the city. This is a direct threat to patient access to health care as malpractice insurance premiums will rise, causing high risk specialists to move their practice to state’s with more reasonable liability climates, if the proposed rules are enacted.
Contact the Civil Procedure Rules Committee and tell them to reject this proposed change to the medical malpractice venue rules and continue to require that these cases only be filed where the cause of action arises. Send your comments to:
Karla M. Schultz, Counsel, Civil Procedure Rules Committee, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Judicial Center, PO Box 62635, Harrisburg, PA 17106-2635: Fax: 717-231-9526; firstname.lastname@example.org
PCCJR Discusses Law Suit Abuse on Lincoln Radio Journal
Out-of-control lawsuit abuse in the court system deemed a “Judicial Hellhole” was the topic of conversation on the December 20 edition of Lincoln Radio Journal. Program host Lowman Henry welcomed PCCJR’s Curt Schroder to discuss how Philadelphia continues to have one of the worst reputations for civil litigation in the country and as a result, puts the entire state at a competitive economic disadvantage.
Download the complete webcast here. The Lincoln Journal is produced and distributed by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
In the News
Duking it out | Pa. civil litigation reform groups, Philly Bar spar over ATRA’s ‘Judicial Hellholes’ report | Penn Record
Striking a nerve | PCCJR’s Letter to the Editor: To Plaintiffs Lawyers’ Chagrin, ‘Hellholes’ Report Provides Much-Needed Scrutiny of Pa. Courts | The Legal Intelligencer