Originally Published Sunday, January 21, 2001
Excerpt from an article By Christopher Snowbeck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
The insurance companies blame the higher premiums on what they call overly sympathetic juries hearing medical malpractice cases in Philadelphia.
But Jerry Meyers, a plaintiffs attorney in Pittsburgh, said critics don’t give juries enough credit.
“When one examines the facts of a case, the rationale of the jury is obvious and not irrational or the product of a system gone wild at all,” he said.
Why do Philadelphia juries give bigger awards?
Well, the cost of living is higher in Philadelphia, Meyers suggests, but the major reason is that jurors in different parts of the state simply have different points of view. While malpractice cases are relatively more successful in Philadelphia County, there also are counties in the state where plaintiffs in malpractice cases have never won cases — and not because there’s never been malpractice in those counties, he said.
Meyers said comparing Philadelphia and California is an apples-to-oranges comparison, since California caps jury awards. Besides, he said, the question isn’t whether Philadelphia pays more or less than anyone else, but the question is whether the payouts in Philadelphia are fair.
The $100 million award might raise eyebrows, but Meyers says that jury’s award has been appealed and the ultimate payout will likely be a fraction of the original amount.
“The medical society and others will pick out a particular verdict. They don’t care whether it’s ever paid,” he said. “They want it to seem as though the system has gone awry because there is a single result that sounds on the face of its facts [to be] unfair.”
The premium problem is not driven by juries so much as by insurers, Meyers said.
Doctors in Pennsylvania must purchase $500,000 in primary liability coverage from a commercial insurer. They receive another $700,000 in coverage through the CAT Fund. They purchase this additional coverage through a surcharge. So, when a plaintiff brings a medical malpractice case, more than one insurance company is involved.
More cases might be going to trial these days, Meyers said, because the insurers can’t agree on a settlement that would keep them out of court. Meyers also accused the CAT Fund of delaying tactics that add to costs. If the CAT Fund were abolished, he argued, commercial insurers would compete for that portion of the insurance business and keep premiums low.