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York malpractice claims rise slightly despite state trend

SARA BLUMBERG
YorkDispatch

The number of residents filing malpractice claims in York County has risen slightly, despite a statewide trend in the opposite direction.

Medical malpractice case filings in the state dipped last year to the lowest point since statewide tracking began in 2000, according to information gathered by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Its records show there were 1,463 new cases filed in Pennsylvania's civil courts in 2014, marking the fewest ever recorded, the report wrote. The latest filings represent a 46.5 percent decline from the number posted in the "base years" of 2000-2002.

In York County, the number of filings went from 16 in 2011 and 2012 to 23 in 2013, according to the most recent information gathered by the AOPC.

By 2014, the cases had increased to 31.

Why it's happening: Malpractice attorney Donald Reihart of the Law Offices of Donald Reihart in York said the upswing is significant.

"There could be more negligence here than in other parts," he said. "You are dealing with a very complex issue. One that is multi-faceted."

The upswing could also reveal more injuries happening at local hospitals, he said.

Surrounding counties are also showing slight upswings.

Adams County had just one case in 2011 and three in 2012. Lancaster County went from 26 case filings to 34 over the same period.

Dauphin County, however, posted a decrease. The number of filings fell from 51 in 2011 to 35 in 2013, according to AOPC statistics.

Overall decline: Jennifer Davis-Oliva, clinical professor of law and director with the Legislative Advocacy Clinic at Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, said there were two theories behind the statewide decline in filings.

It could be attributed to two reforms that were implemented between 2003-2004, she said.

One change required those potentially injured to get a "certificate of merit" indicating there was cause to file.

"The rule effectively requires a licensed medical professional to declare that another similarly situated licensed professional has committed malpractice and/or violated the standard of care," Davis-Oliva said in a statement.

Another change prohibited "venue shopping," requiring cases to be heard in the jurisdiction in which they were filed.

Reihart said the decline is also related to the rising costs of bringing a malpractice case to trial.

Trials today can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 or more, he said.

"If you look at injuries," he said, "you will see the complaints are going up."

To hold hospitals accountable, Reihart would like to see more cameras in operating rooms — a cause he's been promoting for years, he said.

"There is all this controversy over police officers wearing cameras to justify their actions," he said. "Cameras would also keep doctors honest."

— Reach Sara Blumberg at sblumberg@yorkdispatch.com.