The Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court plans to eliminate the requirement that medical professional liability actions be filed only in the county in which the cause of action arose. This proposed change represents a reversion to a set of rules that the Commonwealth previously deemed inadequate to protect healthcare providers and ensure the availability of applicable liability coverage.

The Commonwealth enacted the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Errors (MCARE) Act in 2002 in response to rising medical malpractice payments and reluctance on behalf of insurance providers to conduct business within Pennsylvania. See 40 P.S. §§ 1303.101, et seq. Following the enactment of MCARE, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended certain rules of civil procedure impacting medical professional liability actions. See Pa. R. Civ. P. 1006(a.1). As it currently stands, Rule 1006(a.1) provides a venue limitation exclusive to such actions. Medical professional liability actions against healthcare providers may be brought only in the county in which the cause of action arose. Id.

Presently, the Committee plans to propose the amendment of civil procedure rules 1006, 2130, 2156 and 2179, which collectively govern choice of venue in medical professional liability cases. 48 Pa. Bull. 7744 (Dec. 22, 2018). The proposal eliminates Rule 1006(a.1), thereby providing expanded options for plaintiffs to file medical malpractice actions in any venue authorized by law. 48 Pa. Bull. 7744 (Dec. 22, 2018). Most importantly, the proposal permits plaintiffs to file a medical professional liability action in any venue wherein a healthcare provider regularly conducts business. See Pa. R. Civ. P. 2179(a)(2).

In explaining the proposed change, the Committee cited a “significant reduction” in medical professional liability filings “for the past 15 years,” as well as a “decrease of the amount of claim payments resulting in far fewer compensated victims of medical negligence.” The Committee aims to “restore fairness to the procedure for determining venue regardless of the type of defendant.” Conversely, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform contends that the venue rules saved “high-risk specialty medical care in Pennsylvania at a time when specialists were fleeing the state.” If adopted, the venue change will return Pennsylvania “to the days when doctors from all over the state were sued in Philadelphia if they had even the most remote connection with the city.” The group argues that the statistics cited by the Committee is evidence of the success of the reforms subject to the proposed change. Healthcare providers, organizations, and defense attorneys have expressed concern about the potential impact of the proposed rule leading to forum shopping, increased litigation expenses, and a potential return to the destabilizing factors that led to the enactment of the MCARE Act.

The comment period applicable to the proposed change ends February 22, 2019. Buchanan healthcare litigation attorneys and government relation professionals continue to monitor this development and can provide clients with advice to best navigate this proposed change.