Letter to Hill:

Shared responsibility is a pillar of our economy and community and should not be eliminated

(11/29/2005) -- The following letter from PaTLA President Nancy Fullam was sent to House and Senate members Monday. It precisely states PaTLA’s position on Joint Liability

TO: Honorable Members of Pennsylvania General Assembly
FROM: Nancy Fullam, President

As you may recall, in 2002 the reasons offered why elimination of joint liability was necessary were to protect businesses and health care providers being forced out of business by excessive and unsupportable liability.

In the three-and-a-half years since Act 57 was enacted, the claims made in its support have proven to be overblown and many of the entities supposedly going under have strongly rebounded -- none more so than the hospitals which have seen profits return and are undergoing an unprecedented building boom across the commonwealth.

In addition, the changes to the legal system enacted in 2002 and 2003 have had a broad impact.

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed has dropped dramatically - 34 percent statewide, more than 50 percent in Philadelphia - and the number of jury verdicts and payouts have dropped substantially. MCare fund payments are also down 18 percent in the past year and its surcharge for health care providers dropped from 39 percent to 29 percent this year. Private sector insurance companies are reporting no or minimal increases. Numerous independent analyses have proven the claim of a doctor exodus was false and there are today more doctors in Pennsylvania than there were 5 years ago. The hospitals' building boom is a clear signal they have confidence there will be sufficient physicians to fill their expanded needs.

Importantly, a recent analysis performed by Aon projects malpractice claims will fall further in the coming years in Pennsylvania and specifically cited the reforms already enacted as the reason. And all of this has been achieved without a significant effort to improve patient safety.

The improvements are not limited to the medical malpractice system. Earlier this year, the Department of Insurance announced a $32.5 million reduction in workers compensation costs for businesses. Commissioner Koken specifically cited as a reason for this decrease "our overall reforms and focus on workplace safety." Over the last three years, payouts in automobile collision cases have dropped by almost a third. An increase in safety, especially the imposition of airbags, which are now proliferating so that many cars may now have as many as six airbags surrounding passengers and drivers.

Moreover, there is ample evidence that the legal pendulum has swung too far in protecting wrongdoers regardless of their level of culpability.

Consider that in 2004, the Patient Safety Authority received more than 154,000 reports of serious events and incidents, but only 1,500 malpractice lawsuits cases were filed - or just under one percent. As many as 98,000 patients are killed and an untold additional number injured every year because of a preventable error and the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council recently reported the cost of treating those errors too often is passed onto taxpayers and the businesses which pay premiums.

The original concept behind joint and several liability was to ensure that each participant in an event found to be wrongful was obligated to conform to a standard of non-negligent behavior. Shared responsibility is a pillar of our economy and community. It should not be eliminated.

Justice requires the preservation of joint liability and the changes to our legal system in 2002-03 have had -- at the very least -- the desired effect. A vote in favor of SB 435 or HB 138 is a rejection of the undisputed fact of the changed legal climate since 2002, favoring defendants at the expense of injured Pennsylvanians.