med mal filings down in 2009 largest verdict of 5 million in allegheny county

June 1, 2010–According to the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, Ronald D. Castille, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed against health care providers decreased approximately 44% across the state in 2009. This was the fifth year that medical malpractice filings have decreased in Pennsylvania.

The largest verdict in Pennsylvania in 2009 came out of Allegheny County. The case was won by Veronica A. Richards and Sandra S. Neuman of Richards & Richards, LLP on behalf of Mary Ellen Pfeifer. Pfeifer was undergoing a treatment to have her sodium level regulated by administering 125 cc of sodium per hour at UPMC McKeesport, but through medical error she received 1000 cc in one hour. She sustained permanent brain damage known as central pontine myelinolysis (CPM). The jury found UPMC McKeesport liable for her injuries. The plaintiff was unable to return to work and the verdict allowed her to stay in her home and receive the care she needs.

The verdict awarded to Mary Ellen Pfeifer was not only the largest in the state in 2009, but it was the only medical malpractice verdict to exceed $5 Million. There were 154 medical malpractice cases that went to verdict, only 23 returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Only 12 of awards exceed one million dollars, while the other cases were awarded less than $500,000 each.

An article by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania courts on April 19, 2010, cites two important changes that were made by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania which caused the decrease in filings. First, attorneys are now required to file a certificate of merit documenting that the case has been reviewed by an appropriate medical professional who finds that the care rendered is not acceptable. Second, medical malpractice actions are only to be raised in the county where the medical care occurred.

The national debate on health care continuously calls for reform of the handling of medical malpractice cases within the judicial system. Chief Justice Castille said that “By these two rule changes, Pennsylvania is far ahead of the nation and of the individual states in this arena, and we stand as a model on reform. Most importantly, justice for our citizens is still being delivered where patients are truly injured by medical mistakes.”

The numbers above do not represent the amount of cases that were settled before or during trial. Because most settlements are confidential, we cannot report those figures to the public.

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