Medical malpractice jury verdicts have reached their lowest rate statewide since the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania started reporting the figures in 2000, according to data posted Thursday.
In Allegheny County, malpractice jury verdicts have fallen from an average 49 per year in 2000-2003 to just 10 in the 2015 calendar year. They also skewed heavily in favor of defendants. In Allegheny County, 100 percent of 2015 medical malpractice jury verdicts fell in the defendants’ favors. Statewide, defendants were victorious 78 percent of the time.
There are several reasons why medical malpractice verdicts have declined says Paul Vey, Pittsburgh-based partner at Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP. For one, he says, the medical community has improved processes to reduce the risk of medical malpractice. Plaintiffs and defendants are also choosing to sit through alternative dispute resolutions, such as arbitration.
They’ll sit down with stakeholders and see if they can’t come to an agreement about what the value of the case is, so those cases never get to a jury.
Another factor is the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, or MCARE, which now requires that plaintiffs file a certificate of merit from an expert verifying that the plaintiff has a true case. That may have reduced some frivolous lawsuits, says Vey.
For Harry Cohen, who represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits, the downward trend of medical malpractice jury verdicts is very real. He sees it stemming from increasing skepticism from jurors in addition to increased use of alternative resolutions.
I don’t think hospitals are getting dramatically safer.