Pennsylvania High Court Strikes Rule Allowing Reduction of Medical Malpractice Damages


November 5, 2012

As aPhiladelphia birth injury lawyer, I was pleased to see news that the state Supreme Court has quietly gotten rid of a rule permitting trial courts to reduce medical malpractice awards. According to the Legal Intelligencer, a legal-industry newspaper in Pennsylvania, the court in late October retracted Pennsylvania Civil Procedural Rule 1042.72 without commentary or requesting public comment. The rule permitted losing defendants in Pennsylvania medical malpractice cases to seek remittiturs, which are orders from the court to reduce awards for non-economic damages if they were significantly different "from what could be reasonable compensation." The change doesn't remove Pennsylvania courts' ability to reduce large awards, but such reductions must now be done under a rule that sets a higher standard--thus giving plaintiffs a bit more of an advantage.

While the high court didn't give its reasoning for eliminating Rule 1042.72, the circumstances suggest it felt quick action was needed or the change was perfunctory. Medical malpractice attorneys interviewed for the article said the rule was underused in practice, and also duplicated courts' existing rights. Under common law, courts already have the right to reduce any jury award that is so excessive that it "shocks the conscience." Another state law permits reduction of awards if they would hurt the community's access to health care. According to the lawyers, 1042.72 was rarely used in practice, partly because judges are reluctant to tamper with juries' decisions. A plaintiff's attorney also said there aren't many excessive awards, because medical malpractice "reform" laws ensure that only the most serious cases to go trial. Ironically, Rule 1042.72 survived a court challenge in 2007, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the reduction of a western Pennsylvania medical malpractice verdict.

This isn't game-changing news in Pennsylvania, but it's still good news for families in the state who have been hurt by medical professionals' bad decisions. The other rules that permit reduction of jury awards are less strict, meaning it will be harder for defendants to convince judges to reduce awards. The article says defendants actually did request reductions under 1042.72 fairly often, but judges rarely complied--and as a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer, I'm glad. This rule was undoubtedly proposed and enacted as a political measure, intended to show that some politicians were serious about "reforming" medical malpractice (often a code phrase for "protecting insurance companies from having to pay out awards"). But, as one attorney in the article said, it was a "solution[] in search of a problem." In Pennsylvania, reforms have made it far more common to see large awards in truly catastrophic cases, each of which takes dedicated effort and an experienced attorney to win.

If your family has been hurt by a mistake by a doctor, hospital or other medical professional, don't wait to call Rosenbaum & Associates for help. Based in Philadelphia, we represent clients across eastern Pennsylvania who have suffered serious injuries because of someone else's carelessness. For a free consultation on your options and your legal rights, call us toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 or send us a message online.

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