Pennsylvania Supreme Court Eliminates Venue Restriction for Victims of Medical Negligence

Written by Atlee Hall

In general, in Pennsylvania, a lawsuit against an individual may be brought in a county where he or she resides or where the events giving rise to the lawsuit took place. Lawsuits against a corporation may be brought in a county where it has its principal place of business, where it regularly conducts business, or where the events giving rise to the lawsuit took place. These rules apply to all civil cases with the exception of one type – medical malpractice cases.

Since 2003, plaintiffs filing medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania have been restricted to filing their cases in the county in which the medical care arose. That means that if a patient was injured due to a hospital’s negligence in Lancaster County, for example, that case could only be filed in Lancaster County, regardless of where else the hospital conducted business.

But in August 2022, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court eliminated this inequitable treatment for medical malpractice cases, directing that as of January 1, 2023, plaintiffs can file their cases in any county in the state. Prior to making this change, the Court enlisted the bipartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review the issue and make recommendations. The majority of the committee’s members could not find a justification for the disparate treatment of medical malpractice victims, stating that restricting victims to filing suit in the county where they were harmed resulted in less than full compensation for their injuries.

For years, lawyers representing injured victims argued that forcing them to file a case in the county where the medical error occurred restricted their access to justice. Trials were often held in counties where the hospital was a large employer, which put the injured individual at an immediate disadvantage before a jury.

Ultimately, the Court agreed that the current venue rule provides special treatment for a particular class of defendants. The soon-to-be implemented change to the rule will level the playing field and provide fairness of process to all litigants.