PA Trial Lawyers Dispute Excessive Med Mal Claim Recoveries

February 11, 2002

The Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association (PTLA) has issued a statement that recent studies show that claims by doctors and hospitals that juries have been “out of control” are not supported by either past or current data.

The report “Juries and Jury Verdicts in Medical Malpractice Cases: Implications for Tort Reform in Pennsylvania,” authored by Neil Vidmar, Ph.D. and Russell M. Robinson II, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Duke University School of Law, concludes that, “Injured patients frequently receive less than their economic losses.”

The PTLA stated that, “Vidmar and Robinson reviewed data from the CAT Fund, which insures the second tier of medical malpractice coverage in Pennsylvania, as well as numerous court records including reports from Philadelphia administrative Judge John W. Herron and determined that ‘Philadelphia jury verdicts in medical malpractice cases are not exceptional.”‘ It also said they found “no evidence to support the claim that Philadelphia juries rendered verdicts that were different than those of Pennsylvania juries in general nor of juries around the United States.”

The main point of the PTLA’s response was that million dollar verdicts are justified in many cases to compensate medical malpractice victims for their economic losses, and that reducing insurance coverage minimums from$1.2 million to $1 million, which the State’s legislature is considering, “is likely to make recovery of full and fair compensation by severely injured patients even more difficult.”

Responding to the assertion that consumers and taxpayers ultimately must bear the higher costs of providing medical services, which are increased by large damage awards, PTLA president Clifford A. Rieders stated that “Claims by doctors and hospitals that juries in Philadelphia have caused this so-called ‘crisis’ are baseless. The primary problem is medical errors and the huge expense they put on victims and our society. Vidmar and Robinson have produced a study that shows the conventional ‘cures’ for our legal system do not work. The question before us is, who will bear the financial responsibilities — is it the doctors and hospitals who caused the harm, the injured victims and their families, or the taxpayers?”

Neither Rieders’ response nor the study cited seemed to directly address the immediate concerns of those who are primarily involved, i.e. Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice carriers, who are spending large sums of money in damage awards, that make participation in the State’s health care industry too expensive for many of them to continue coverage under the current circumstances.

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