Ensuring Medical Professional Liability Actions Are Brought In the Venue In Which the Action Arose
In Dockery v. Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc., et al., 2021 WL 671704 (Pa. Super. 2021), the Superior Court upheld the trial court’s decision to transfer the plaintiff’s medical professional liability case from Philadelphia County to Delaware County, the county in which the cause of action arose. The Dockery decision, therefore, affirms that lawsuits may only be filed in the county in which the alleged action arose, as opposed to a more plaintiff-friendly venue/county.
In Dockery, the plaintiff filed a medical professional liability lawsuit against multiple health care providers in Philadelphia County, alleging tortious conduct occurring in Delaware County. The defendants filed preliminary objections, challenging the venue as improper and arguing that the case should be transferred to Delaware County pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5101.1 and Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a)(1). The plaintiff responded to the preliminary objections by arguing that, while both the rule and statute were applicable, both are unconstitutional.
Essentially, the plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of both 42 Pa.C.S. § 5101.1 and Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a)(1). He alleged that both venue laws violate equal protection rights by discriminating in favor of health care provider defendants.
Approximately 20 years ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that medical malpractice plaintiffs were increasingly suing health care providers in metropolitan counties, even when the alleged malpractice occurred elsewhere. Consequently, both the legislature and the Supreme Court acted to limit the forums in which medical malpractice plaintiffs can litigate. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 5101.1; Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a)(1). Both the statute and the rule mandate that medical professional liability actions against health care providers be brought only in the county in which the cause of action arose.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas considered the issue of the constitutionality of both laws and ultimately sustained the preliminary objections, finding that both the statute and rule regarding venue are constitutional. The trial court explained that both 42 Pa.C.S. § 5101.1 and Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a)(1) promote a legitimate state interest of ensuring Pennsylvania residents receive quality health care. In addition, both laws ensure that medical professional liability insurance can be obtained at a reasonable price. Further, and perhaps most importantly, both the statute and rule restrict forum shopping. As such, the court found that both the statute and the court rule did not violate the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
The plaintiff subsequently filed an appeal to the Superior Court, again advancing the argument that both the rule and the statute are unconstitutional. After analyzing the plaintiff’s argument, the Superior Court ultimately held that the plaintiff failed to assert a proper constitutional attack against the venue rule. The court further concluded that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania lacked any rational basis for discriminating against medical malpractice plaintiffs on the question of venue. Since the plaintiff’s challenge to the rule failed, the case was ultimately transferred to Delaware County per the venue rule’s requirements. Accordingly, the court did not need to address the merits of the rule’s constitutionality.
In conclusion, the existing venue rule and statute remain intact and unchanged as a result of this decision. After Dockery, which echoes that of prior case precedent, medical professional liability suits may only be filed in the county in which the alleged cause of action arose. Further, this holding ensures that professional liability insurance will remain affordable, and, as such, the law remains unchanged. Lastly, this opinion ensures that plaintiffs are prevented from forum shopping and attempting to transfer cases to more plaintiff-friendly venues.
*Felicia, an associate, works in our Philadelphia, Pennsylvania office. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.575.2795.
Defense Digest, Vol. 27, No. 3, June 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact email@example.com.