The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, on June 4, published a news article and the title says it all: “Medical Malpractice Case Statistics Show Nearly 45 Percent Decline in Number of Case Filings Statewide.” The author of the article also mentions that this has been a “spiraling trend” carried over eight of the last ten years (since the state began keeping such detailed records).
We wrote about medical malpractice cases dwindling in March 2012 with the statistics then available to us (as of 2009) in “More Evidence Opposing Medical Malpractice Tort Reform in Pennsylvania.” We noted that while statewide figures were down significantly in 2009, the number of cases in Philadelphia in particular dropped by nearly 60 percent since 2000. By 2012, the number of Philadelphia suits plummeted even lower, to nearly 68 percent.
What is ultimately troubling about these statistics is not the statistics themselves, but the fact that so much of the public continues to think that so-called “jackpot justice” is a real thing and that out-of-control medical malpractice suits have hijacked the civil justice system. An even more absurd claim would be that these medical malpractice suits have led to soaring healthcare costs (in fact, such cases make up less than 1 percent of the country’s annual healthcare spending).
The number of malpractice suits has been on the decline for a decade, and yet reimbursements (insurance companies’ payments to doctors for services) have not gone up and medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors have not gone down. All of this evidence suggests that much of the hype about doctors having to leave the state due to rampant lawsuits has been an exaggerated myth. More importantly from an economic perspective, if these two figures (doctors’ reimbursements and high medical malpractice premiums) have remained relatively stable while the number of cases and their payouts have declined. Where are these savings going? Insurance companies are certainly not passing them along to the consumer: health insurance costs continue to climb in Pennsylvania.
Doctors in this state enjoy more civil protection than the average citizen, including recent law changes, like a venue statute that requires medical malpractice cases to be filed in the county in which the malpractice occurred even if the owners of the hospital or practice group are based elsewhere. Moreover, attorneys are now required to obtain a “certificate of merit” from a medical professional that “establishes that the medical procedures in a case fall outside acceptable standards.”
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said, “This represents another example of the history of collaboration and cooperation among the three branches of state government in addressing what, just a few years ago, was one of the Commonwealth’s more vexing challenges.” At the very least, these statistics suggest that these measures have been effective in reducing medical malpractice filings while at the same time not infringing on the right of citizens to bring a claim in the civil justice system.