In a setback for Pennsylvania health care providers, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved an order amending the rules pertaining to the venue in which medical malpractice suits may be brought. The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure will now allow a plaintiff to bring a medical malpractice claim in any county in Pennsylvania, so long as certain requirements are met.
For the past two decades, the rules required that a medical malpractice suit could only be filed in the county in which the alleged harm occurred. Beginning on January 1, 2023, a plaintiff may bring a cause of action against a health care provider in any county in Pennsylvania where the health care provider “regularly conducts business.”
Although it has always been the rule in Pennsylvania that corporations could be sued anywhere they regularly conduct business, the now-amended rule had previously carved out an exception for medical professional liability suits and required that they could only be filed in the county in which the cause of action arose.
The Civil Procedural Rule Committee commented that the previous limitations contained in the rule provided “special treatment of a particular class of defendants.” Since the amendments were first proposed in 2018, proponents have maintained that the altered rules will serve to benefit victims of medical negligence. The health care community has strongly opposed the amendments given the higher likelihood of exposure to lawsuits that health care providers may now face.
The landscape of health care has undoubtedly changed since the original installment of the venue rules in 2003, especially considering the ushering-in of telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennsylvania courts will now be faced with the question of what it means to regularly conduct business in a jurisdiction within the context of health care. Such inquiries will be fact intensive and will likely create a new body of law that analyzes unpredictable issues related to health care in Pennsylvania. This new rule could also encourage forum shopping in venues considered less favorable for defendants.