After a six-year decline in the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits, a new report shows that claims have now slightly risen in Pennsylvania. Claims went from 1,819 total malpractice claim filings in 2004 to a low of 1,491 in 2010. (From 2000 through 2002, the numbers were significantly higher: For example, 2,904 claims were filed in 2002). The 2011 figure reflects a leveling off of claims – a total of 1528 were filed last year.

While consumer rights groups, including the watchdog group Public Citizen, contend that the decline is just a reflection of a nationwide reduction in lawsuits. The Pennsylvania judiciary attribute it to two significant changes made in 2003 to the rules for filing malpractice lawsuits. The first change required attorneys who were seeking to file a malpractice case to obtain a certificate of merit from a health care professional. The certificate must establish that the medical treatment in the case fell short of acceptable professional standards.

The second change mandated that medical malpractice lawsuits must only be brought in the county where the injury took place. This requirement was targeted at eliminating the practice of “venue shopping” – or, in other words, finding a jurisdiction with more favorable laws and filing the lawsuit there. After the 2003 rule changes, the number of filings in the state of Pennsylvania dropped significantly.

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According to the medical malpractice resource page of Pennsylvania’s Unified Court system, 2011 had the fewest number of jury verdicts compared with other years, and more than 70% of 2011 jury verdicts were for the defense.

For the sixth consecutive year, the number of non-jury verdicts (those rendered by a judge) was in the single digits. In 2011, only seven non-jury verdicts were rendered – four for the defense and three for the plaintiffs. Of the verdicts for the plaintiffs, all were for $500,000 or less. Of the 110 jury verdicts for 2011, 78 were for the defense and 32 were for plaintiffs.

Nine were for amounts of $500,000 or less, seven were for $500,000 to $1 million, 10 were between $1 million and $5 million, two were between $5 million and $10 million, and four were judgments over $10 million.